Signs Vaping May Be Causing You Long Term Damage | HMH NJ   

Signs Vaping May Be Causing You Long Term Damage

Close up shot of a young woman vaping an electronic cigarette at night
Clinical Contributors to this story:
Kostantinos Poulikidis, M.D.

Because e-cigarettes don’t produce smoke like cigarettes do, some people think they’re safe. But using e-cigarettes (vaping) has been shown to also damage the lungs.

E-cigarettes have only been available in the U.S. since 2007. Because of this, we don’t know their long-term health effects yet.

Cigarette smoking has been linked with lung cancer. Vaping is too new to be linked to cancer, but experts say there’s a potential risk. 

Teens have preferred vaping to cigarettes since 2014, according to recent data. They may not expect problems, but lung damage may be in their future.

“Peers may tell teens that e-cigarettes are harmless, compared to cigarettes,” says thoracic surgeon Kostantinos Poulikidis, M.D., with the JFK Advanced Lung and Airway Center. “But vaping still involves inhaling nicotine and other chemicals that can damage the lungs.”

Symptoms of Vaping-Related Lung Damage

In 2019, researchers first identified EVALI (e-cigarette or vaping product use-associated lung injury). This condition refers to vaping-related lung injury, including serious illness and death.

Thousands of people have experienced lung damage due to EVALI, and dozens have died. Many who were diagnosed with the condition were teens; half were under 25.

People who vape who develop EVALI may develop symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Chest pain
  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Abdominal pain
  • Headache
  • Dizziness
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shallow breathing

Other complications have been linked to vaping, including “popcorn lung” and collapsed lung.

“Popcorn lung,” or bronchiolitis obliterans, is another condition that has been linked to vaping. It damages small airways within the lungs, making it hard to breathe.

Before vaping existed, workers at popcorn factories were exposed to diacetyl, a flavoring chemical. The same chemical that seasoned popcorn is also in some e-cigarettes.

People who vape who develop “popcorn lung” may develop symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Coughing
  • Wheezing
  • Chest pain

Vaping may also cause a type of pneumonia, when e-cigarette chemicals are inhaled. Inhaling the fatty acids present in some e-cigarettes may lead to lipoid pneumonia.

People who vape who develop lipoid pneumonia may develop symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A chronic cough
  • Coughing up bloody mucus
  • Coughing up blood

Some people who vape may develop a collapsed lung, or primary spontaneous pneumothorax. In susceptible people, vaping may advance asymptomatic blisters in the lung into holes.

People who vape who develop a collapsed lung may develop symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • A sharp pain in the chest
  • Uncomfortable shoulder pain

Recent research
found that vaping may cause scarring of lung tissue, or constrictive bronchiolitis. Inhaling chemicals found in e-cigarettes may damage the lung’s small airways.

People who vape who develop constrictive bronchiolitis may develop symptoms like:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Asthma-like symptoms

How to Minimize Vaping-Related Lung Damage

The best way to prevent vaping-related lung damage is by avoiding vaping.

If you don’t smoke or vape, don’t start. Vaping is not a safe alternative to cigarettes.

If you already vape and would like to quit, there are several options available:

  • Seek help from your doctor. They may recommend prescription medication to make it easier to quit.
  • Nicotine-replacement therapy may help reduce nicotine cravings. Some products are available over-the-counter.
  • See a therapist who helps people quit smoking and vaping. Therapy improves your chances of quitting, especially when combined with medication.
  • Some people try to quit cold turkey. It may be effective for some, but medication plus counseling is often better.

If you’re able to quit vaping, you may help to improve your lung health. Researchers don’t have long-term data about vaping, but some research is promising.

“Vaping is too new to know how well the lungs will recover from damage,” Dr. Poulikidis says. “However, quitting e-cigarettes is the best way to prevent any additional damage.”

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