What is bronchiolitis obliterans?

Bronchiolitis obliterans, also known colloquially as popcorn lung, is a respiratory condition that often stems from breathing in toxic chemicals. These chemicals damage the minute airways within the lungs, which leads to a host of troubling symptoms. There are a number of chemicals that contribute to this condition, many of which are found in numerous workplaces all over the U.S.

The term popcorn lung stemmed from incidents involving workers being injured by the chemical used to flavor microwave popcorn, known as diacetyl. Workers who were exposed to diacetyl developed bronchiolitis obliterans at higher rates, which led to many manufacturers opting not to use it. Chlorine, welding fumes, ammonia, and sulfur dioxide are also thought to be linked to this condition. The condition usually appears from two weeks to two months after a person has been exposed to a toxic chemical. 

Most people first notice symptoms after partaking in rigorous physical activity, such as running. Being short of breath and a dry, persistent cough are the most common symptoms experienced by people with bronchiolitis obliterans. The earlier the condition is identified, the more successful the treatment. Your doctor may need to take a lung biopsy to make an accurate diagnosis, but an X-ray may also be utilized. 

In terms of treatment, you'll first be advised to limit exposure to the toxic chemical that caused your symptoms. The longer the exposure, the more serious your symptoms will become. If inflammation is an issue, you may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications, such as steroids. By reducing swelling, these medications cause the airways to open wider. You might also be provided oxygen, as well as medication that suppresses your immune system. This is to prevent more damage to your lungs, which will make the condition worse. 

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