How To Identify Popcorn Lung Symptoms and Seek Compensation for Damages

In 2000, a physician revealed eight microwave-popcorn factory workers developed a rare lung disease called bronchiolitis obliterans. Half of the eight employees fell ill and were advised to undergo a lung transplant.

Researchers investigated various possible causes and determined that a toxic vapor from butter flavoring caused lung disease. Prolonged exposure to diacetyl, a butter-flavored chemical found in caramel, popcorn, and dairy products, caused the medical condition.

Factory workers in the popcorn and flavoring manufacturing industry are particularly at risk of developing bronchiolitis obliterans or popcorn lung. Suppose a patient develops popcorn lung due to exposure in the workplace. They may be eligible to file a personal injury claim or lawsuit against their employer.

The first step in filing a claim for popcorn lung is to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. Seeking legal representation from a credible attorney increases a victim’s chances of recovering maximum compensation.

Law firms usually offer free consultations to patients who wish to file an insurance claim. The attorney will evaluate the patient’s medical records and other relevant documents to determine if they have a viable case.

Key Takeaways
  • Popcorn lung refers to damage to the bronchioles resulting from various reasons, including inhalation of toxic substances.
  • Exposure to harmful chemicals like diacetyl, formaldehyde, and sulfur dioxide causes popcorn lung.
  • Popcorn lung symptoms include wheezing, dry cough, and sudden weight loss.
  • Patients suffering from popcorn lung can file a personal injury claim or lawsuit to recover damages for their injuries.

What is popcorn lung?

Popcorn lung or obliterative bronchiolitis is a rare type of lung disease. It is a chronic and life-threatening medical condition that disrupts oxygen flow in the body.

Inhaling a harmful chemical can injure the lung’s smallest airways, called the bronchioles. Usually, this injury heals. However, there is a possibility that the cellular repair process exceeds what is needed and causes scar tissue to build up.

This inflammation and scarring block air from passing through the air sacs, hindering the body’s capacity to take in oxygen. The lung damage may worsen over time and may eventually lead to respiratory failure.

Leading Causes of Popcorn Lung

Various factors contribute to how people can come into contact with popcorn lung. It includes exposure to toxic substances, such as formaldehyde and sulfur dioxide. Similarly, some people are more prone to bronchiolitis obliterans, like those with pre-existing respiratory illnesses and lung transplants.

Fumes from industrial or flavoring chemicals

Prolonged exposure to harmful chemicals such as diacetyl, formaldehyde, and sulfur dioxide can potentially lead to popcorn lung conditions. These substances are usually found in manufacturing and industrial settings and can cause damage to the lung’s tiniest airways.

Diacetyl, in particular, is a chemical commonly used in popcorn flavoring, giving it an artificial butter taste. When people inhale these chemicals, they can irritate the airways and lead to inflammation and scarring.

Individuals working in industries or factories that expose them to these chemicals are more likely to develop popcorn lung.

Other toxic substances that cause popcorn lung include the following:

  • Acetaldehyde
  • Metal oxide fumes
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Chlorine
  • Nitrogen oxides

Bacterial or viral respiratory infections

Certain medical conditions are linked to popcorn lung, including respiratory illnesses such as pneumonia or bronchitis. Patients with rheumatic diseases like rheumatoid arthritis are also prone to developing popcorn lung.

In addition, people suffering from viral infections like respiratory syncytial virus and influenza are likely to develop popcorn lung. These infections damage the lungs and cause inflammation, making patients more vulnerable to the adverse effects of toxic chemicals.

Similarly, people with pre-existing respiratory conditions such as asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are also susceptible to bronchiolitis obliterans.

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Lung transplants

Patients with lung transplants risk developing popcorn lung as a side effect if their body rejects the transplant. Around 50 percent of lung transplant patients develop the disease within five years. The medical industry calls this phenomenon bronchiolitis obliterans syndrome.

Patients undergoing transplants for other organs can also be vulnerable to popcorn lung. Ten percent of patients who received a bone marrow transplant developed popcorn lung within the first five years of the procedure.

Moreover, lung transplant patients are at risk of developing popcorn lung even without any exposure to toxic substances. However, having a lung transplant does not automatically lead to popcorn lung. Various factors, such as infections, genetics, or autoimmune diseases, influence its diagnosis.

Symptoms of Popcorn Lung

Bronchiolitis obliterans shares several symptoms with other respiratory illnesses, including COPD, pneumonia, and asthma. Usually, symptoms appear between two weeks and two months after the patient is exposed to the harmful chemicals.

Common symptoms of popcorn lung include the following:

  • difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
  • wheezing
  • dry cough
  • chest pain
  • unexplained weight loss

These symptoms are more likely to be noticeable during hard labor or exercise. In the case of lung transplant patients, symptoms can take several years to appear.

Popcorn lung symptoms can manifest subtly and slowly, eventually becoming more disabling. In addition, as popcorn lung promotes inflammation of mucosal surfaces, patients may notice skin inflammation around the nose and eyes.

Diagnosing Popcorn Lung

Physicians may have difficulty in determining whether a patient has a popcorn lung since its symptoms resemble other medical conditions. The doctor may request a comprehensive medical history and conduct several tests to diagnose the condition.

The initial step involves the doctor conducting a physical examination and assessing the patient’s lungs using a stethoscope. This step checks for any wheezing or abnormal sounds from breathing.

The doctor may recommend other tests, including pulmonary function tests, computer tomography or CT scans, and chest X-rays. 

Lung function tests help determine the amount of air the patient can inhale and exhale or if any airways are blocked. Meanwhile, X-rays and CT scans provide visualization of a patient’s lungs to identify any signs of damage and inflammation.

If necessary, the doctor may perform a lung biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. During the procedure, the doctor removes a portion of the affected lung tissue for microscope evaluation.

Popcorn Lung Treatment

While no known cure for bronchiolitis obliterans exists, treatments aim to minimize its symptoms and improve the patient’s quality of life.

Treatment options include medication to help open airways and make patients breathe easier. In some cases, physicians consider lung transplants. However, it is not a guaranteed solution. It is a risky and complex procedure with potential complications.


Doctors use various medications to treat popcorn lung, including steroids and antibiotics, which help reduce inflammation and swelling in the airways. In some cases, they prescribe antibiotics if the patient has an infection.

Doctors may also prescribe immunosuppressive drugs to reduce the immune system’s activity and limit inflammation. Additionally, patients may use bronchodilators. They work by opening up the small airways, making it easier to breathe. 

Oxygen therapy may be necessary for severe cases to increase its supply to the lungs. This treatment reduces shortness of breath and other symptoms.

Lung transplant

In rare cases, doctors may consider lung transplants as a treatment option for severe cases of popcorn lung. However, undergoing a lung transplant for popcorn lung is not advisable as the disease can recur over time.

Generally, medical experts only recommend transplants to patients who have not improved through other treatments which use medication to alleviate symptoms.

How To Recover Compensation

Patients who developed popcorn lung because of their workplace environment can recover compensation through an insurance claim or lawsuit. 

In general, businesses in manufacturing or industrial settings must take safety measures to protect their employees from the harmful effects of chemicals. These measures include providing sufficient ventilation and personal protective gear to reduce the risk of developing medical conditions.

Popcorn lung patients could recover compensation if their employers were negligent or committed intentional acts that exposed their workers to harmful chemicals.

Examples of negligence include the following:

  • Failing to inform factory workers of popcorn lung side effects
  • Failing to explain the risks and dangers of working with and inhaling toxic substances
  • Failing to monitor chemical levels in the air within the workplace
  • Violating federal or state regulations relating to chemical use in industrial facilities

Insurance claim

Popcorn lung patients may file a worker’s compensation insurance claim to recover damages for their injuries. Employers carry this insurance in case of workplace accidents.

Workers’ compensation insurance provides wage and medical benefits to injured workers. All US states mandate employers to have this insurance. However, the specific benefits may vary by state.

Injured parties must seek medical advice from a healthcare professional to successfully file a claim and obtain an official report. This step is crucial to support their claims and establish the injury.

Civil litigation

Sometimes, insurance companies unnecessarily delay or deny a patient’s personal injury claim. In this case, an injured worker should pursue a lawsuit to recover compensation for their losses.

Alternatively, suppose a loved one died due to popcorn lung disease. The decedent’s estate or personal representative can file a wrongful death lawsuit on their behalf. If successful, their heirs can benefit from the damages awarded by the court.

Compensation You May Receive From a Personal Injury Claim

Depending on various factors, patients may receive different types of compensation for their medical condition. The factors include the type and severity of their illness, the state they reside in, and the applicable state laws.

Economic damages

Economic damages intend to compensate monetary losses that result from an event or action, such as workplace accidents. An insurance company or court awards these damages to the injured party to cover incurred expenses relating to the incident.

Examples of economic damages include the following:

  • Medical expenses: These are bills incurred for medical treatment, such as hospitalization, prescription medication, surgery, and rehabilitation. This category also covers future medical expenses related to their medical condition.
  • Lost pay: These damages compensate the patient for any lost income or incentives caused by their illness. It includes income for missed work, reduced work hours, and loss of earning capacity.
  • Burial and funeral expenses: In wrongful death cases, economic damages can also cover funeral or burial expenses.

Non-economic damages

Non-economic damages cover losses that are not easily quantifiable. It includes emotional injuries and mental anguish.

Courts or insurance companies may use two methods when calculating non-economic damages: the multiplier or per diem method.

The multiplier method involves multiplying economic damages by a certain number. It usually depends on the severity of the non-economic losses. For instance, a court may use a multiplier of 1.5 to compensate for moderate pain and suffering. They may also use a multiplier of 5 for severe cases.

Conversely, the per diem method involves awarding a certain amount of compensation for each day the patient experiences suffering. For example, a court may award $100 per day for emotional distress and $50 per day for pain and suffering.

Examples of non-economic damages include the following:

  • Pain and suffering: It refers to emotional and physical pain endured by the patient due to their medical condition.
  • Emotional distress: The psychological harm the patient suffers, like anxiety and depression.
  • Loss of companionship: It applies to cases where a spouse of a loved one dies from a medical condition, resulting in loss of support and affection.

Punitive damages

Besides compensatory damages, a court may choose to award punitive damages to the patient. These damages intend to punish the defendant for their unlawful act and discourage similar conduct in the future.

A court awards punitive damages only to select cases. Usually, it is those which involve particularly harmful or intentional acts.

Did you know?

Flavored e-juice in electronic cigarettes usually contains diacetyl to enhance its taste. Inhaling this chemical while vaping causes inflammation and may lead to popcorn lung.

Find a Popcorn Lung Lawyer With The Personal Injury Center

Popcorn lung disease is a serious condition that shouldn’t be taken lightly, even by those in perfect health. Symptoms of respiratory illnesses take a while to manifest and may initially present as common colds or coughs. As such, people exposed to toxic fumes should be cautious to avoid developing popcorn lung.

Suppose you developed popcorn lung disease while in the workplace. The Personal Injury Center can help connect you to a workplace accident attorney to help with your case. With its vast network of lawyers, you can find someone perfect to handle your case.

You can also browse The Personal Injury Center’s collection of legal articles for more information on insurance claims or workplace lawsuits. Suppose you wish to seek legal advice from a reliable and efficient lawyer. You can book a free consultation with The Personal Injury Center.

Seek legal advice from a popcorn lung attorney. Contact The Personal Injury Center to connect you to an efficient lawyer.

FAQs on Popcorn Lung Symptoms

If you work with chemicals, you can protect yourself from developing popcorn lung by ensuring proper safety measures are in place. It includes wearing personal protective gear to minimize inhalation of toxic fumes.

Patients should file a personal injury action within three years of discovering their medical condition. However, this timeframe may vary by state. You can seek advice from a popcorn lung attorney to know which specific statute applies to your case.

Popcorn lung disease is not contagious. Similarly, secondhand exposure to toxic fumes can not lead you to develop a respiratory illness.