Presentation of 'popcorn lung' type injury in vaping
Although e-cigarettes were initially marketed as a potential smoking-cessation aid and a safer alternative to smoking, the long-term health effect of e-cigarette use (“vaping”) is unknown. Vaping e-liquids expose the user to several potentially harmful chemicals, including diacetyl, a flavouring compound known to cause bronchiolitis obliterans with inhalational exposure (“popcorn worker’s lung”).

A 17-year-old male youth who presented with intractable cough, progressive dyspnea and malaise after vaping flavoured e-liquids and tetrahydrocannabinol intensively.

Initial physical examination showed fever, tachycardia, hypoxemia, and bibasilar inspiratory crackles on lung auscultation. Computed tomography of the chest showed diffuse centrilobular “tree-in-bud” nodularity, consistent with acute bronchiolitis. Multiple cultures, including from 2 bronchoalveolar lavage samples, and biopsy stains, were negative for infection. He required intubation, invasive mechanical ventilation and venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for refractory hypercapnia. The patient’s condition improved with highdose corticosteroids. He was weaned off ECMO and mechanical ventilation, and discharged home after 47 days in hospital.

Several months after hospital discharge, his exercise tolerance remained limited and pulmonary function tests showed persistent, fixed airflow obstruction with gas trapping. The patient’s clinical picture was suggestive of possible bronchiolitis obliterans, thought to be secondary to inhalation of flavouring agents in the e-liquids, although the exact mechanism of injury and causative agent are unknown.

Learning Points:
1) This case of severe acute bronchiolitis, causing near-fatal hypercapnic respiratory failure and chronic airflow obstruction in a previously healthy Canadian youth, may represent vaping-associated bronchiolitis obliterans.

2) This novel pattern of pulmonary disease associated with vaping appears distinct from the type of alveolar injury predominantly reported in the recent outbreak of cases of vaping associated pulmonary illness in the United States.

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