By Julie Steenhuysen
(Reuters) – Canadian researchers have identified a new type of vapor-related lung damage that they believe is associated with flavorings in conventional vape pens, causing symptoms similar to the 'lung popcorn' injuries observed in workers exposed to aromas in popcorn.
The case, published on Thursday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, concerned a 17-year-old man who developed bronchiolitis, severe and irreversible lung damage due to exposure to chemicals.
This condition has been linked to diacetyl, a chemical that gives microwave popcorn a buttery taste and a known cause of bronchiolitis. Various studies have also shown the presence of diacetyl in vaporizing fluids.
Earlier this spring, a healthy Canadian teenager appeared in the emergency ward of an Ontario environmental hospital last spring with a severe cough. He was diagnosed with pneumonia and prescribed antibiotics.
Five days later he returned with worsening symptoms and was accepted and received intravenous antibiotics. He continued to refuse and was placed on a mechanical fan, but he still did not improve.
At this point, he was transferred to the London Health Sciences Center and underwent extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or an ECMO machine – extreme therapy that takes over the work of the lungs. This stabilized him, but did not reverse this state.
"I was afraid that his lungs would never get enough to pull him out of the machine," said Dr. Karen Bosma, an intensive care physician in London and the author of the study.
Fearing that they may need a lung transplant, the team moved the teenager to a Toronto Regional Transplant Center. Because the tests ruled out infection, the doctors decided to try steroids at high doses that helped reduce inflammation.
The patient reported the use of both flavored nicotinic lime and THC – a psychoactive agent in marijuana. Doctors suspected a vapor-related injury before reporting the outbreak in the US.
Although the case has similarities with over 2,000 cases of vaping-related diseases in the United States, the damage is different. Instead of damaged air bags in the lungs, the teenager damaged the airways, which, according to his doctors, were caused by chemical injuries.
"This is a new discovery," said Bosma.
She said several evaporating chemicals could cause injury, but the team focused on diacetyl because it has been shown to cause similar diseases.
Four months after release, the teenager still has breathing problems. Bosma said it is unclear whether his lungs will recover.
"This is irreversible in patients with popcorn lung."
(Report: Julie Steenhuysen; Editors: Bill Berkrot)