Definition of Popcorn worker's lung
Popcorn worker's lung: A form of bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe obstructive lung disease, in workers who mix and package flavored microwave-popcorn or are involved in other flavoring manufacturing.
In a typical case, a 40-year-old woman began work on a microwave-popcorn packaging line. She had no chest symptoms, had never smoked, and was accustomed to walking 3 to 5 miles daily. Six months later, she started coughing about a few hours after the start of her shift. Two weeks later, she developed muscle aches, night sweats, and increasing exertional dyspnea (shortness of breath upon exertion). It prevented her from taking her accustomed walks and from lifting 25-lb boxes at work. She had to stop work. Her dyspnea (shortness of breath) continued to increase. She was placed on a waiting list for a lung transplant.
Popcorn worker's lung is due to chronic exposure to a chemical that is used in making artificial butter flavoring. The chemical is diacetyl (2,3-butanedione). High levels of diacetyl damage cells lining the respiratory tract.
Last Editorial Review: 6/14/2012
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