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Popcorn lung: Symptoms, causes and more

Vaping could be more dangerous than you think? (Picture: Stefano Madrigali)

Ever heard of your lungs being like popcorn?

The term ‘popcorn lung’ has been hitting the headlines recently, after the rare respiratory condition was linked to the currently unbreakable vaping habits of the nation.

An estimated 4.3 million Brits use e-cigarettes, with rates growing rapidly for those aged under 18. It’s also becoming a popular habit among those who’ve never smoked before.

While vaping is considered a safer option than tobacco smoking, there’s a lot of conflicting information out there – including its connection to popcorn lung.

Here’s everything you need to know about the condition, from its causes to the symptoms to look out for.

What is popcorn lung?

Despite its fun-sounding moniker ‘popcorn lung’ is actually a rare form of lung disease – also known as bronchiolitis obliterans.

A build-up of scar tissue in the lungs ultimately results in scarring and inflammation to the smallest parts of the airways.

This leads to symptoms such as coughing, shortness of breath and finding it hard to breathe.

There’s currently no cure for popcorn lung, but there are treatments to help alleviate symptoms.

Cigarettes have decades of research, but it’s still uncertain with vapes (Picture: Getty Images)

Causes of popcorn lung

The condition was named after a group of factory workers developed the condition after breathing in a chemical called diacetyl, which was used as a flavouring in popcorn.

However, bronchiolitis obliterans can also be caused by a number of different things that damage the lungs, including drug reactions, viral infections and respiratory diseases such as pneumonia.

Other chemicals that have the potential to cause popcorn lung include chlorine, ammonia, mustard gas and fumes from welding.

Popcorn lung symptoms

Symptoms are said to be similar to that of COPD, occurring around two to eight weeks after exposure to harmful chemicals or illness.

Common indicators include difficulty breathing and a persistent, progressive, and dry cough.

According to the American Lung Association, other parts of the body may experience irritation too, explaining: ‘For example, a skin rash may develop in addition to respiratory problems.’

Many find that, once symptoms show up, they occur regularly and worsen over time.

Bronchiolitis obliterans can also cause flu like illness, fever, unexplained fatigue or weight loss.

Can vaping cause popcorn lung?

Well, claims have been made.

A 20-year-old woman says she developed popcorn lung due to a severe vaping habit, and could need an oxygen tank by the time she’s 30.

However, Cancer Research UK says that currently, there ‘have been no confirmed cases of popcorn lung linked to e-cigarettes.’

On top of that, e-cigarettes containing the guilty chemical linked to the condition haven’t been legal in the UK since 2016.

That said, it’s important to remember that vapes are a new phenomenon, and research is still being undertaken on to determine its impact on our bodies.

It will be a very long time before we can start to see the true effects of these little devices, so exercise caution and consult your doctor for more information.

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