Bronchiolitis Obliterans: Causes, Signs, and Symptoms

The yellow liquid used to flavor candy, chips, coffee, and e-cigarettes smells and tastes like butter. It’s hard to tell from looking at it, but we now know it can obliterate your lungs if you breathe it in. The suspected culprit: Diacetyl. Many employees who work in food manufacturing are unknowingly exposed to the dangerous chemical compound.

What is Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

Bronchiolitis Obliterans is a rare, but serious respiratory condition that affects the bronchioles; the lungs tiniest airways. Due to inflammation, the airways become scarred and constricted resulting in no air movement. This leads to extreme shortness of breath.

What causes Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

In high concentrations, diacetyl attacks, inflames and virtually obliterates the bronchioles. As the body tries to heal, scar tissue builds up and further restricts the airways. The disease is called bronchiolitis obliterans; the damage, irreversible.

The chemical mimics butter flavoring and is used by food makers and food packagers because it’s cheaper and preserves longer than butter.

Diacetyl is an ingredient in popcorn, baked goods, snacks, and a variety of other edibles. It is not the only chemicals putting people at risk of this disease. Other causes may be due to some of the following chemicals when inhaled:

  • Acetaldehyde
  • Formaldehyde
  • Sulfur dioxide
  • Nitrogen oxides
  • Chlorine
  • Hydrochloric acid
  • Ammonia
  • Metal oxides (formed during welding)
  • Mustard gas (chemical weapon)
  • Food flavoring fumes (diacetyl)

Who is at risk of developing Bronchiolitis Obliterans?

Any individuals whose working conditions expose them to dangerous chemicals are at risk of developing bronchiolitis obliterans.

Those who work around flavorings are at particular risk from inhaling a chemical called diacetyl such as workers in plants where flavorings are made including coffee plants, dairy plants, snack food plants, pet food plants, and anyone else who has worked around flavorings as part of their job.

Other industrial workers who spray prints onto textiles with polyamide-amine dyes and battery workers are exposed to thionyl chloride fumes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) recommends that diacetyl manufacturing companies take the time to regularly sample air in work environments and provide purifying respirators.

Individuals who have had a lung transplant are also at risk because their body might try to reject the new organ. Bronchiolitis obliterans is the primary cause of death in people who get lung transplants.

Signs and symptoms of Bronchiolitis Obliterans

Symptoms range from mild to severe. It may take about two to eight weeks for symptoms to develop after exposure to toxic fumes or respiratory illness and progress slowly over weeks to months. It can take several months or years for symptoms to present themselves after a transplant. Symptoms include:

  • Gasping for air
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath
  • Wheezing
  • Severe irritation of the skin and eyes
  • Fevers
  • Night sweats
  • Weight loss
  • Hardening of the lung tissue

Bronchiolitis obliterans is not an infection itself, but it is possible for a patient to have bronchiolitis obliterans and a respiratory infection at the same time.

Bronchiolitis Obliterans Diagnosis

There is often a misdiagnosis of diseases caused by flavoring exposure. Affected individuals are many times diagnosed with asthma or emphysema when they are truly suffering from a disease caused by exposure to diacetyl, bronchiolitis obliterans. A chest x-ray will often appear normal.

The diagnosis may be difficult to make because the symptoms are similar to tobacco-related diseases and asthma. Additional testing such as imaging studies, pulmonary function tests, CT scans, and surgical biopsy can be ordered to confirm the diagnosis.

Is there a cure for B.O.?

There is no cure for bronchiolitis obliterans. However, some treatments may help stabilize or slow its progression, and because it can be fatal, early intervention is critical for successful management of the disease.

Antibiotics, corticosteroids, and immunosuppressive drugs are often prescribed to people with bronchiolitis obliterans. Corticosteroids can help clear the lungs of mucus and reduce inflammation. Breathing exercises can help ease breathing difficulties. A lung transplant may be recommended in severe cases.

Extra rest and increased fluid intake are required to recover. The air in your home should be kept clear of smoke and any chemicals. A humidifier may help by keeping the air moist.

Long-term outlook

The outlook depends on when the condition was diagnosed and how far it has progressed. This disease is often fatal within months to years.

How The Carlson Law Firm can help

If you have been diagnosed with this life-threatening lung disease, don’t hesitate to contact our Bronchiolitis Obliterans attorneys. Potential lawsuits are being reviewed for factory workers who have been diagnosed with this life-threatening disease all across the United States. Here at The Carlson Law Firm, we are committed to getting you the best result possible. There will be no fees or expenses to hire our attorneys; all claims are pursued under a contingency fee, which means that we won’t get paid unless we secure a recovery for you.

Contact us today for a free case evaluation. We care, we can help.


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