A woman’s addiction to vaping left her hospitalised with a rare lung condition which doctors warned could have left her reliant on an oxygen machine before she turned 30.
Abby Flynn, from Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire, had never smoked a cigarette before but took up e-cigarettes in summer 2021 because they were ‘trendy’.
Quickly hooked on the devices, she found herself demolishing an entire cartridge of vape fluid each day — the equivalent of 140 cigarettes a week.
But she was left gasping for breath one morning, after a cough she developed when she first began vaping became uncontrollable.
Tests taken in hospital revealed the 20-year-old had developed ‘popcorn lung’ — an irreversible lung injury that can be fatal without treatment.
She has now vowed to never vape again after doctors told her should would need an oxygen machine to help her breathe within the next decade if she didn’t quit.
In January, Abby Flynn (pictured above) woke to find she couldn’t breathe properly and took herself to Milton Keynes Hospital Walk-in Centre. Doctors then diagnosed bronchiolitis obliterans – or ‘popcorn lung’
Ms Flynn had never smoked a cigarette before but took up e-cigarettes just 18 months ago as they were ‘trendy’. Quickly hooked on the device, she found herself demolishing an entire cartridge of vape fluid each day- the equivalent of 140 cigarettes a week
Ms Flynn used to buy two disposable vapes for £9 every time she was at a corner shop, setting her back £135 a month. She would smoke a range of sweet flavours — including bubble gum.
‘When I started it was a trend that was going around — everyone had a disposable vape,’ she said.
‘I’ve had asthma since I was around nine or ten. I started vaping about a year and a half ago. I didn’t smoke before, so I literally went straight to vaping.
‘I had it in my hand when I was driving. I’d be asleep and wake up and it would be in my hand. It was just constantly attached to me.’
What is popcorn lung?
‘Popcorn lung’ is the nickname for bronchiolitis obliterans, a condition which damages the smallest airways in the lungs.
It is a rare disease which can develop after an injury to the lung caused by a chemical or infection – known possible causes include chlorine, ammonia, welding fumes or food flavourings.
It got its nickname from the buttery food flavouring chemical, diacetyl, which used to be in microwaved popcorn may cause it.
Cancer Research UK says that although there are concerns e-cigarettes may cause the condition there is ‘no good evidence’ of a link so far.
People who have had lung transplants may also get the condition if their body tries to reject the organs.
Symptoms include a dry cough, difficulty breathing, wheezing or exhaustion.
The illness damages the lungs by causing swelling and scarring which block up the small airways in the organs, known as the bronchioles.
Obstruction in the bronchioles means the lungs have a smaller surface area through which they can absorb oxygen, so people may struggle to breathe efficiently.
Sources: Cancer Research UK and National Institutes of Health
But the former supermarket maintenance coordinator suddenly developed a persistent cough after taking up e-cigarettes.
At first it niggled but over the course of 18 months, the cough progressively took hold.
And in January, Ms Flynn woke to find she couldn’t breathe properly and took herself to Milton Keynes Hospital Walk-in Centre.
She said: ‘I was laying there in the walk-in centre panicking and was crying because I couldn’t catch my breath. I couldn’t walk and my cough was just awful.
‘It was really scary. Initially I didn’t know what was wrong, I knew I had asthma but it wasn’t a feeling of an asthma attack.’
Swiftly taken to resus by medics, she was given oxygen and had an X-ray.
Doctors then diagnosed her with bronchiolitis obliterans — or ‘popcorn lung’.
She added: ‘They asked if I used disposable vapes. They said I had loads of air pockets in my lungs, which is what they call “popcorn lung”.’
The condition is an rare type of lung disease, triggered by inflammation in bronchioles — the smallest airways in the lungs — which become scarred.
Scientists have suggested there may be a possible link between the disease and a chemical called diacetyl. However, further research is required.
Some liquids in e-cigarettes used to contain diacetyl, but in the UK the chemical was banned in e-cigarette liquids under the EU Tobacco Products Directive in 2016.
As well toxic chemicals, infections and autoimmune diseases can also cause popcorn lung. It is unclear how many people suffer from the rare condition affects.
Tell-tale signs include coughing, shortness of breath, wheezing, tiredness, fever, night sweats and a rash.
It was named after a group of popcorn factory workers in Missouri developed the condition after breathing in vapour from the butter flavouring added to the popcorn, which contained diacetyl.
Medics may prescribe steroids and an inhaler to reduce inflammation and help with breathing. In severe cases, a lung transplant may be required.
Sufferers require life-long care to manage their symptoms and are advised to avoid air pollution, cigarette smoke and people who are unwell.
Ms Flynn has vowed never to touch a vape again and hopes that her experience will be the wake-up call someone else needs
In recent years, e-cigarettes have become a popular tool to help people quit smoking.
But dozens of studies have warned that vaping can cause severe damage to the lungs and heart, similar to smoking standard cigarettes.
In 2021, the Government controversially set out plans to prescribe vaping in a bid to wean people off regular smoking.
Ms Flynn claimed doctors told her if she didn’t kick the habit ‘within the next year or two’, she would be forced to rely on an oxygen machine by the time she hit 30.
‘It was a bit of a wakeup call’, she said.
‘The doctor said that it’s really common for young people that use disposable vapes.’
She added: ‘I was quite shocked because all my friends vape, everyone from 18 to 25, a lot of people always carry a disposable vape around.
‘So for it to happen to me and not anyone else I know, I was a bit like “what?”‘
After several hours in hospital, she was discharged and told to take steroids every morning until a follow-up appointment to review her chest health a month later.
Ms Flynn has vowed never to touch a vape again and hopes that her experience will be the wake-up call someone else needs.
She said: ‘I think it shocked a lot of people, my best friend threw her vape away as soon as I went into hospital.
‘I think a lot of people think that it’s not going to happen to them.
‘Vaping is really not worth it. I struggle with my chest every single day now and I know a lot of other people do as well and they’re still vaping.’
She added: ‘I’d urge people to throw their vapes in the bin. I know a lot of people use them as stress relief because you get a nicotine rush from it, and that’s all fine but just reduce how much you use it.
‘I think because it’s always in your hand, it’s not like a cigarette where you go out and light it, that’s why people use them so much.’