lungs with popcorn in them

Popcorn Lung

When I was young, before COPD, a good night was making popcorn! Dad had this heavy pan, with a lid. He or I would put oil in the bottom of the pan, just enough to cover it. Once it was hot, in would go the popcorn. It would be put on the hot burner and periodically we would shake it. That was hard work, especially when younger, because the pan was so heavy. You knew it was done when the popping slowed. Then off came the lid and we'd pour it into a big bowl with salt and butter. The only thing better was around Christmas when we made popcorn balls. They are so good. My aunt and uncle would give us a bag of candy, nuts, an apple, a quarter and always a popcorn ball.

Popcorn was a staple for me as a kid

Who can go to the movies without a bucket of popcorn and a big glass of pop? It may be soda where you are at. It would last the whole movie! I might have gone back for Milk Duds too.

Light weight and you knew when it was done when the top expanded and filled up. The salt and butter were in with the popcorn, but sometimes we would add our own. It was so good and I didn’t have to wash the pan.

The microwave made it easier to make popcorn

Then came the creation of the microwave oven. Soon to follow was microwave popcorn or popcorn in a bag. It was so easy to just put the bag in the microwave. The bag told you what side faced up and what setting to use. You could hear the popping and smell the wonderful smell of buttery popcorn. Over time, there has been a variety of flavorings. And now bags where you can have salt, light salt, caramel, 100-calorie, movie butter, regular butter and more. I could even burn the popcorn.

Popcorn could be an easy filler while dieting, or craving a snack. I think we had popcorn about every night. Very frequent for sure.

What is popcorn lung?

In May of 2007, I was at the National Jewish Medical Center in Denver, where I was diagnosed with COPD. There I heard about Popcorn Lung. Popcorn Lung is an irreversible scarring in the smallest airways in the lungs. This mainly affects those who work in the popcorn manufacturing plants or even in the flavoring facilities, where they breathe in vapors of the buttery, tasty chemical called Diacetyl. This is a natural ingredient that is in butter, cheese yogurt and even wine, which manufacturers use to flavor their popcorn1.

Diacetyl's role in lung damage

Diacetyl isn’t harmful when swallowed, but if large amounts are inhaled, it can damage lungs. There have been severe cases where the employees had to have lung transplants. Diacetyl also causes a shortness of breath, wheezing, dry cough, phlegm, fatigue, headache, aches, pains and nausea. The vapors can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat and skin. It may lead to fixed airway restriction or obstruction. Diacetyl is also known as butanedione, 2,3-butandedione and food flavorings containing diacetyl (FFCD)2.

Beyond popcorn, diacetyl can still do damage

But it's not just popcorn. Diacetyl is also used to flavor some e-cigarettes. They can be very damaging to lungs when inhaled.

I know that popcorn lung didn’t cause my COPD, however, it could affect my breathing. I seldom have popcorn anymore and now have an air popper.

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