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What Do I Need to Know About Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

What Do I Need to Know About Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

What Do I Need to Know About Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

What Do I Need to Know About Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

Bronchiolitis Obliterans is a serious respiratory disease where the smallest airways of the lungs, called the bronchioles, become inflamed and damaged. Bronchiolitis obliterans can be caused by a respiratory infection after an organ transplant, but the lung disease is also caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, including irritant fumes such as chlorine or ammonia. Research also suggests that bronchiolitis obliterans may be caused by diacetyl, a butter flavoring used in food products such as microwaveable popcorn. In fact, litigation over bronchiolitis obliterans has grown in recent years because of this evidence.

What Causes Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

Bronchiolitis obliterans is caused by exposure to toxic chemicals, many of which are present in food products. This association was first made public in the mid-1990s, when researchers linked the respiratory disease to the plant Sauropus androgynus, also known as the sweet leaf or star gooseberry. A number of Taiwanese women drank the raw juice of this plant under the belief that it would help promote weight loss, until dozens were diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans.

In recent years, more cases of bronchiolitis obliterans have been attributed to diacetyl, a chemical used to provide butter flavoring in microwaveable popcorn and other food products. In fact, a number of lawsuits have been filed alleging that butter flavoring caused respiratory illness in plant workers and consumers.

There are also lawsuits alleging that the lung disease is caused by styrene, a widely used chemical. Researchers found that bronchiolitis obliterans was present in six boat builders who worked with fiberglass and styrene resins. One man who was briefly exposed to smoke from burning polystyrene home insulation was also diagnosed with the condition.

According to the National Institute of Health’s website, chemicals that could cause bronchiolitis obliterans include:

  • nitrogen dioxide
  • sulfur dioxide
  • ammonia
  • hydrogen fluoride
  • phosgene
  • hydrogen bromide
  • hydrogen chloride
  • methyl isocyanate
  • hydrogen sulfide

Bronchiolitis obliterans can also be caused by respiratory infections, especially after an organ transplant. Medication reactions and connective tissue disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis can also lead to this bronchiolitis obliterans.

Lawsuits Allege Butter Flavoring in Popcorn Caused Disease

Hundreds of lawsuits have been filed alleging that diacetyl caused bronchiolitis obliterans. Regulators first became concerned with this association in 2000, when the Missouri Department of Health notified the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) of eight possible cases of the disease in single popcorn plant. Two years later, NIOSH found that workers who mixed butter flavorings in popcorn plants had a higher rate of lung disease.

Cases have been filed on behalf of popcorn plant workers and a handful of consumers. One Colorado jury awarded $7.2 million to Plaintiff Wayne Watson for his lawsuit alleging that he sustained lung injuries from exposure to microwaveable popcorn that he made in his home; $5 million was awarded in punitive damages from popcorn manufacturer Gilster-Mary Lee.

Symptoms of Bronchiolitis Obliterans

It is rare for cases of bronchiolitis obliterans to be latent, meaning that symptoms usually appear right after someone is exposed to the toxic substance. According to National Jewish Health , the symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans usually appear two to eight weeks after exposure to the hazardous substance. When bronchiolitis obliterans is caused by a transplant, however, it may take months or years to manifest. Symptoms of bronchiolitis obliterans include:

  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fatigue and wheezing in the absence of a cold or asthma

Dry cough and shortness of breath are worsened on exertion in patients with bronchiolitis obliterans. In some cases, this illness can lead to death or a lung transplant.

Speak with your doctor if you have these symptoms and think that you may have bronchiolitis obliterans. This lung disease can be detected through imaging tests such as CT scan or pulmonary function test. A chest x-ray may also be performed. However, the most surefire way to diagnose bronchiolitis obliterans is through a surgical lung biopsy, where a piece of tissue is taken for testing.

Help for Those Diagnosed with Bronchiolitis Obliterans

Research suggests that bronchiolitis obliterans is caused by exposure to various toxic substances, including butter flavoring used in popcorn (diacetyl). If you or a loved one have been diagnosed with bronchiolitis obliterans after being exposed to diacetyl, please fill out our online form or call our office at 1(800)-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).


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