Along with physical injuries, people may also fall ill when exposed to certain conditions at their place of work. Bronchiolitis obliterans is one workplace illness that occurs after breathing in toxic fumes, which causes irreversible damage to the lungs similar to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Very Well Mind explains how this disease can impact your health and what to look for in terms of symptoms.

Bronchiolitis obliterans is often referred to as popcorn lung. This name originated when workers at a microwave popcorn plant came down with respiratory issues, which were then linked to a chemical used to give popcorn its buttery flavor. A similar occurrence happened at a factory where coffee was processed, and it’s believed that the large volume of coffee beans released chemicals that were toxic when inhaled.

The illness targets tiny airways in the lungs called bronchioles. When exposed to certain chemicals airways become inflamed, which leads to a host of troubling symptoms, such as wheezing, fatigue, a dry cough, and shortness of breath. Symptoms usually present quickly after the initial exposure, sometimes as soon as two weeks. To determine whether a person has this condition, a doctor may perform a CT scan or x-ray, or take a lung biopsy to determine whether bronchioles have been damaged.

Immediate treatment is a must after a diagnosis has been made. The effects of bronchiolitis obliterans cannot be reversed, and without the proper treatment, the condition can be fatal. First and foremost, the person must be removed from the environment where chemical exposure is taking place. Medication is sometimes provided to decrease swelling, which greatly improves lung function. In serious cases where damage is already severe, a lung transplant may be necessary.