The term popcorn lung sounds benign, almost whimsical in nature. Popcorn lung cannot possibly be a real condition, right? Popcorn lung, however, is a real medical condition that has recently been irrefutably linked to e-cigarette vaping. Sadly, the number of people diagnosed with this untreatable and potentially fatal condition is skyrocketing as vaping becomes more popular around the world. If you believe you have developed popcorn lung or other injuries from e-cigarette use, contact the Maryland popcorn lung and vape pen injury attorneys today.
What is Popcorn Lung?
Popcorn Lung is a rare medical condition that damages a person’s bronchioles. So, what are bronchioles? Bronchioles are the smallest part of a person’s respiratory system. The main airways of the lungs (called bronchi) branch off into these smaller and smaller passageways, the smallest of which are referred to as the bronchioles. Air passes through the bronchioles into the alveoli, the tiny air sacs in the lungs (resembling a cluster of grapes). In persons affected by popcorn lung, the bronchioles become inflamed over time, develop scarring and subsequently become narrowed, resulting in breathing difficulties that can eventually prove fatal.
How Does Vaping Cause Popcorn Lung?
The term “popcorn lung” gets its name from a chemical called diacetyl, a chemical that was once commonly used to give products (most prominently, microwaveable popcorn) a rich, buttery flavor. In fact, over a decade ago, workers in a microwave popcorn factor were sickened by breathing in the chemical diacetyl. While the flavoring itself is tasty and enjoyable, exposure to the diacetyl soon became linked to multiple deaths and hundreds of cases of “bronchiolitis obliterans,” a serious and irreversible lung disease. As a result, major popcorn manufacturers removed diacetyl from their products, heeding warnings from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Problem solved, right?
Fast forward nearly 10 years later to the advent of e-cigarettes. Diacetyl has returned, this time being brazenly used by e-cigarette companies as an additive in the “e-juice” liquid to complement their flavorings like vanilla, coconut, maple and other that e-cigarette users utilize on a daily basis. In short, despite this dangerous chemical being removed from previous food products like popcorn because it was known to cause a potentially devastating lung disease, e-cigarette companies are now selling e-juice containing this same dangerous chemical and users are now directly inhaling this harmful chemical into their lungs. In fact, in 2015, a Harvard study that tested 51 types of flavored e-juices found that diacetyl was found in more than 39/51 or 75% of flavored electronic cigarettes and refill liquids then on the market. Additionally, these same researchers found that two other potentially dangerous chemicals, acetoin and 2,3-pentanedione were found in 46/51 and 23/51 of the flavors, respectively.
How is this possible? Because e-cigarettes, until just recently in May 2016, were not regulated by the FDA. That’s right, for almost 10 years since the advent of e-cigarettes, there was no Food & Drug Administration (“FDA”) oversight, whatsoever, of e-cigarettes. On May 5, 2016, the FDA announced that it was finally extending its oversight authority to include e-cigarettes. In August 2016, the FDA began to apply and enforce key provisions of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act (the laws that govern traditional cigarette manufacturers) as it relates to the manufacturing of e-cigarettes. Like any oversight, however, implementation of new guidelines takes time. Additionally, many companies’ products are grandfathered in because they are already on the market. As a result, some e-cigarette manufacturers were essentially given a three year “free pass” to keep their e-juice on the market while the FDA tested their products, while others may continue to sell their e-juice liquids regardless. One key point is worth noting, the new FDA regulations do not “ban” potentially harmful ingredients like diacetyl, acetoin or 2,3-pentanedione despite the known health hazards associated with each of them.
To be fair, in the wake of the controversy surrounding the inclusion of chemicals like diacetyl and acetoin in e-juices, many e-cigarette manufacturers have removed those chemicals from their products, while others have reduced the levels of those chemicals in the liquids. Nonetheless, regardless of the levels of those chemicals, if e-cigarette users are inhaling even minute amounts of these chemicals into their lungs over an extended period of time, they are at risk for developing devastating lung conditions, such as popcorn lung, or other health hazards.
What Are the Symptoms of Popcorn Lung?
If you or a loved one is a long-time e-cigarette user and has used e-juices containing diacetyl, acetoin and/or 2,3-pentanedione, you should be aware of the symptoms of popcorn lung, many of which are subtle and easy to overlook. For example, if you have asthma or another chronic lung condition, it may be difficult to differentiate your new symptoms apart from your long-term complaints. For those without chronic long-term lung conditions, the onset of popcorn lung can be characterized by the following symptoms: wheezing, dry cough, shortness of breath, difficulty inhaling deeply (especially with physical activity), unexplained exhaustion, rapid breathing, or skin/eye/mouth/nose irritation. If your breathing becomes difficult, you experience chest pain or dizziness, you should seek immediate medical attention immediately.
If your doctors suspect popcorn lung, he or she may recommend tests like a bronchoscopy to look at your airways, a biopsy to remove a portion of the affected lung to examine it under the microscope, a pulmonary function test to monitor the progress of your symptoms, a chest x-ray or a CT scan to see detailed images of the lungs.
Unfortunately, the damage caused by the lung scarring associated with popcorn lung is irreversible. There is also, sadly, no cure for the condition once it has developed and begun constricting the airways. Some treatments that are commonly attempted include antibiotics to avoid infections, steroids to lessen any inflammation, supplemental oxygen, medications like Singulair that blocks immune cells that produce inflammation and lung transplants in severe instances. The long-term outlook for popcorn lung is wholly dependent on how fast the disease worsens and there are no known timetables.
Call Our Maryland Vaping Injury Lawyers for a Free Consultation Today
If you believe that e-cigarette use (and in particular, use of e-juices containing harmful chemicals) has caused you to develop popcorn lung or other debilitating lung conditions, call the MD e-cigarette injury attorneys at Bennett & Heyman, P.A. for a free consultation. These debilitating lung conditions can result in the need for a lifetime of medical care and you will need experienced attorneys in your corner fighting for what you deserve.