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What is popcorn lung?

by | Mar 25, 2021 | Workplace Injuries

In addition to workplace injuries, workplace illnesses can also take quite a toll on your health and wellness. An illness acquired at work can result from exposure to toxic chemicals, which can lead to a range of symptoms and ill-effects.

According to WebMD, popcorn lung is a respiratory condition where damage caused by inhaled chemicals affects the small airways in the lung. Officially referred to as bronchiolitis obliterans, popcorn lung gets its informal name from a chemical used in a factor that manufactured microwave popcorn, diacetyl. Workers at the factory where diacetyl was used experienced higher rates of bronchiolitis obliterans, which led to many manufacturers discontinuing use of the chemical. However, other chemicals can also cause bronchiolitis obliterans, including:

  • Chlorine
  • Fumes from welding
  • Ammonia
  • Acetaldehyde
  • Formaldehyde
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Sulfur dioxide

Symptoms of popcorn lung

Symptoms first present from two weeks and two months after the initial exposure. The illness beings with mild shortness of breath and a dry, non-productive cough. Some people also experience unexplained fatigue and wheezing. Symptoms will become worse with continued chemical exposure.

Treatments for this respiratory condition

After chemical exposure and onset of the above symptoms, a doctor can use diagnostic imaging or a lung biopsy to make a diagnosis. The earlier you receive a diagnosis, the better the outlook.

You must cease exposure to the chemical immediately to prevent further damage. Medications containing steroids reduce swelling in the lungs, while medications that decrease immune function can prevent more serious damage from occurring. If you are experiencing difficulty breathing, your doctor may also provide oxygen.

A safe workplace is a must to preserve your health and wellness. With a serious illness or injury, the effects are often long-lasting and may cause issues beyond your professional life.

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