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Published on September 10, 2019

Is there a link between vaping and lung disease?

Vaping Lung Disease

A recent nationwide spate of severe lung disease has the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control, and health officials in several states, investigating if vaping is the cause. According to the CDC, as of Aug. 27, 2019, 215 suspected cases in 25 states, and one death, have been reported.

No conclusive evidence of respiratory infection was found; the common factor in all the cases was e-cigarette use.

Just how many people may be affected is unknown, as lung disease caused by vaping is not required to be reported by health officials, according to CNN.

“People who are looking at vaping as an alternative (to smoking) are taking a risk,” warned Hyannis pulmonologist and intensivist Scott A. Slater, MD. “It can be fatal.”

In an Aug. 2 notice, the CDC urged physicians to report suspected cases of vaping–related lung disease to local and state health departments. That posting said affected people started with symptoms of coughing, fatigue and shortness of breath, which worsened over several days or weeks until they were admitted to a hospital. Chest pain, fever, diarrhea and nausea were also reported.

Dr. Slater, of Cape Cod Healthcare Pulmonary Medicine in Hyannis, said the posting’s description of CT and X-ray results suggests the patients may have had Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), a condition of lung inflammation with fluid weeping into air spaces, causing low oxygen levels.

According to the American Lung Association, ARDS rapidly progresses and the buildup of fluid makes it difficult or impossible to breathe. Dr. Slater said ARDS is typically found in older patients with other illnesses, not young, otherwise healthy individuals. Treatment requires placing the patient on a ventilator in a hospital’s intensive care unit in hopes of recovery. Lengthy stays on a respirator raise the risk of dangerous complications, such as a blood clots or pneumonia, he said. The outlook is dismal.

“If you develop ARDS with other organ dysfunction, your chance of survival may be as low as 10 percent,” Dr. Slater said.

Of the initial cases being investigated by the CDC, some were placed on ventilators and improved after treatment with corticosteroids.

Unknown Ingredients

Complicating the probe into definitely determining if vaping is the cause of these severe lung disease cases is the large number of substances used in commercially sold vaping pods, and the fact that some users make their own “juice,” as well as inhale marijuana-derived THC products through these devices.

Dr. Slater said vaping juice can contain heavy metals and ethylene glycol, the active component in antifreeze, as well as nicotine, which is very addictive and can affect adolescent brain development, according to the CDC, along with myriad flavoring agents. The CDC says vaping products may contain diacetyl, which is linked to lung disease; volatile organic compounds; cancer-causing chemicals; and nickel, tin and lead.

Future research probably will show a direct association between inhaling these blends of chemicals and microparticles and the cases of severe lung disease among vapers, Dr. Slater said.

“The lungs are not designed to handle any of this,” he said.

Dr. Slater questioned whether vaping was safer than cigarette smoking, as many people believe. He contrasted how years of smoking eventually may cause COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), lung cancer or emphysema and death with the relatively rapid progression to the development of severe lung disease after vaping for a period of months.

He urged people to stop vaping until more information on the risks is discovered.

“No one’s doing their lungs a favor by inhaling anything but fresh air,” he said.