Diacetyl is a diketone flavouring agent that is commonly employed for buttery taste as well as other purposes. Industrial exposure to flavouring agents, particularly diacetyl, has recently been associated with bronchiolitis obliterans, a severe respiratory illness producing fibrosis and obstruction of the small airways. This has been most commonly reported in the microwave popcorn production industry, but it has occurred elsewhere. In addition to bronchiolitis obliterans, spirometry abnormalities (fixed airflow obstruction) and respiratory symptoms have been associated with exposure. A direct effect on the respiratory epithelium with the disorganised fibrotic repair appears most likely as the underlying mechanism. Current data suggest that diacetyl is the agent responsible, although it is possible that diacetyl is simply a marker for another causative agent.
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