Medical Definition of Popcorn lung

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Popcorn lung: A form of bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe obstructive lung disease, first described in workers who mix and package flavored microwave-popcorn or are involved in other flavoring manufacturing. The syndrome has also been observed in people who consumed microwaved popcorn in large quantities. “Popcorn 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. Moreover, in 2015 the offending chemical, diacetyl, was found to be present in flavored e-cigarettes, leading to a potential risk for lung disease from this type of exposure. Signs and symptoms of "popcorn lung" are primarily cough and shortness of breath. The symptoms may develop slowly over time and can become disabling. Other possible symptoms are fevers, night sweats, and weight loss.

Reviewed on 12/21/2018

REFERENCE: Allen et al. "Flavoring Chemicals in E-Cigarettes: Diacetyl, 2,3-Pentanedione, and Acetoin in a Sample of 51 Products, Including Fruit-, Candy-, and Cocktail-Flavored E-Cigarettes." Environ Health Perspect; DOI:10.1289/ehp.1510185

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors