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The Truth About Vaping and Lung Damage
Vaping and lung damage. What is the relationship? Though still somewhat of a mystery, recent reports have shed more light on this.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been vocal about the harmful effects of vaping. A recent report of over 500 related illnesses and seven deaths is enough to make one ponder.
In recent times, there has been a switch from cigarette smoking to e-cigarettes. This switch is in an attempt to avoid the risks related to smoking. The association of diseases like cancer and lung disease with cigarette smoking is well known. On the other hand, e-cigs have been considered a safer alternative. So why the deaths and lung damage?
E-cigarettes were first introduced commercially in 2008. At this time, it appears to be a case of the wild, wild west with e-cigarettes and vaping. Regulations are minimal.
The popularity of e-cigarettes continues to rise. This increase is even more so, amongst teenagers. The cool designs and fruity flavors further increase their appeal. The United States Surgeon General has declared that the rise in youth e-cigarette use is a public health emergency. It’s that bad!
Nicotine is a component of e-cigs. According to the CDC, nicotine is as addictive as cocaine, alcohol, and heroin! Perhaps, it is time to look closely at better regulating electronic cigarettes.
What is Vaping?
Vaping refers to the use of battery-powered electronic cigarettes. The use of e-cigarettes helps with the ingestion of nicotine without the smoke and tar that you get from burning tobacco. These electronic devices use a battery to heat a liquid containing nicotine. The heat produces an aerosol that the user inhales. For this reason, it is advertised as a safe way to quit smoking. We now, however, know that vaping has its ill effects.
Nicotine is the main product in e-cigarettes. Of recent, though, vaping other substances such as tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) has become more common. THC is one of the active ingredients found in cannabis (marijuana).
There is suspicion of some even more dangerous drugs finding their way into e-cigarettes. According to some reports, these illicit substances may be responsible for some of the recent deaths from vaping.
E-cigarettes were introduced to help people quit smoking cigarettes. It removes the lingering smell and chemical compounds found in cigarettes. Recent reports and studies have, however, shown that vaping has its downsides.
What are E-Cigarettes?
E-cigarettes contain a battery, a heating element, a place to hold the liquid, and an inhaler piece. The device heats the liquid to produce an aerosol that is inhaled into the lungs by the user. These devices have the following common names:
- Electronic cigarettes
- Vape pens
- Tank systems
- Electronic Nicotine Delivery System (ENDS)
These devices produce an aerosol that contains many harmful substances. The aerosol from vaping comes from heating the liquid containing various chemicals. These substances include nicotine, flavorings, and other additives (e.g., solvents, oils, and propellants). It is these substances that contribute to lung damage from vaping.
Some of such dangerous compounds found in the aerosol are:
- Heavy metals (nickel, tin, lead)
- Diacetyl (linked to lung diseases)
- Cancer-causing chemicals
- Ultrafine particles
- Volatile organic compounds (gasoline, paint thinners)
E-cigarettes usually have a mixture of nicotine, glycerin, propylene glycol, and flavorings. These components, in addition to the other chemical ingredients, are harmful enough. Add THC and other dangerous substances to these, and it’s even more of a recipe for bodily damage.
Why is Vaping Dangerous?
Even though vaping is generally considered to be safer than cigarette smoking, there are some dangers. In addition to lung damage, vaping also causes other health issues.
Here are a few reasons why vaping is dangerous:
- E-cigarettes are largely unregulated.
- They contain unknown chemicals.
- Some of these products deliver higher levels of nicotine than cigarettes.
- They release higher levels of formaldehyde as compared to cigarettes.
- They can easily be tainted with other dangerous drugs.
- There are many recent reports of lung diseases and deaths.
- Studies show that vaping affects 358 genes that help fight infection.
- Vaping can also cause dizziness, irregular heartbeats, and high blood pressure.
- Addiction to nicotine can occur.
- Vaping releases ultrafine particles into the air and has effects similar to secondhand smoke.
- Withdrawals from nicotine can cause mood swings, reduced attention span, difficulty sleeping, weight gain, and fatigue.
Did you know that people can now hack their devices to allow for a greater release of nicotine and heat? This process is unhealthy not just for the person vaping, but also those around them. Due to the possible secondhand effects of vaping, there is a World Health Organization ban on the use of vaporizers indoors.
So, how bad is vaping? Bad enough to kill! As of September 2019, there have been seven related deaths in the United States. Unfortunately, it is still unknown exactly why these deaths are happening. There are a few theories, however.
One suggestion is that lower-end products have been responsible for the fatalities. Also, there are concerns regarding injecting dangerous substances into the liquid component of e-cigs. What stands out so far though is the fact that quite a few of these deaths are related to vaping products containing THC.
In addition to the lung damage and deaths from vaping, one of the most significant health risks is the unknown. Vaping is still relatively new, and scientists do not exactly know what the long term effects are.
Vaping and Lung Damage
So, how does the lung illness from vaping present? There have been several case reports. At this time, the consensus is that the chemicals from vaping cause Acute Exogenous Lipoid Pneumonia.
Here are a few take-home points from recent case reports:
- Symptoms usually include cough, chest pain, and difficulty breathing
- People tend to be sick for several days to weeks before hospitalization
- Some other symptoms include rapid heartbeat, fever, chills, and fatigue
- In some cases, this illness may start with nausea, vomiting, stomach pain and diarrhea
- Patients who end up in hospital are found to have low oxygen levels in their blood, and they sometimes progress to respiratory failure
- Some patients are so ill that they require treatment with oxygen, endotracheal intubation, and mechanical ventilation
- Most patients with lung damage from vaping did not respond to antibiotics
- Many patients were responsive to steroids
- CT scan and chest X-ray showed abnormalities in the lungs
- All these patients have a history of e-cigarette use
- There was no evidence of an infection, meaning the cause of lung damage was the chemicals from vaping
- Most of the patients reported using e-cigarette products containing THC
- Some people reported using products containing only nicotine, and yet some others used products containing both nicotine and THC
- No consistent e-cigarette product, substance or additive has so far been identified
Vaping and Lung Damage – Current Facts from the CDC
- The CDC is currently investigating serious lung illnesses from e-cigarettes.
- As of September 2019, there are over 500 cases of lung injury from 38 states and 1 U.S. territory. There is also confirmation of seven deaths from 6 states.
- There are similarities amongst victims – similar exposures, symptoms, and clinical findings.
- Most patients have reported using e-cigarette products containing THC.
- Many patients have reported using both THC and nicotine-containing products.
- A smaller group reported using nicotine only.
- No evidence of infections has been identified in these patients. Therefore, lung illnesses are likely due to chemical exposure from vaping.
- It is still too early to pinpoint a single product or substance common to all cases.
- The CDC now has an incident command structure to respond to these cases, and they are working closely with the FDA.
- The recommendation is for people to consider not using e-cigarette products while this investigation is ongoing
- For those who use e-cigarettes, monitor yourself for symptoms (cough, shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, vomiting, stomach pain).
- Do not buy e-cigarettes off the streets, and do not modify e-cigs or add any substances to them.
- The following should avoid the use of e-cigarettes – youth, young adults, pregnant women, or adults who do not currently use tobacco products.
- If you have any concerns after using an e-cigarette, contact your healthcare provider or your local poison control center at 1-800-222-1222.
Regulations on Vaping and E-cigarettes
The e-cigarette industry is also taking regulatory steps. As of 2018, Juul (a brand producing e-cigs) no longer stocks stores with appealing flavors like mango, fruit, creme, and cucumber. Instead, they now only provide tobacco, menthol, and mint flavors. Juul, however, plans to continue selling the fruity flavors on its website but would ensure buyers were 21 years or older.
The situation is so alarming that the CDC and FDA are closely monitoring the status and giving regular updates. Not surprising considering there are now over 500 people ill from lung damage, and seven related deaths – as of September 2019. In fact, with directives from the U.S. president, the FDA plans to issue new regulations. These policies aim to ban all vaping products that taste like anything other than tobacco.
Electronic cigarettes go by various names. The common ones are e-cigarettes, e-cigs, vapes, e-hookahs, vape pens, and electronic nicotine delivery systems (ENDS). Using an e-cigarette is commonly known as vaping.
E-cigs work by heating a liquid to produce an aerosol that users inhale into their lungs. In addition to nicotine, electronic cigarettes can be used to deliver tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). This substance is one of the principal ingredients in cannabis (marijuana). Users of e-cigs can also add other illicit drugs to the devices.
Initially, e-cigarettes were made with the hope that it would serve as a safer alternative to cigarette smoking. Evidence of lung damage and recent deaths, however, raises questions on the safety of vaping. As of September 2019, there have been over 500 severe lung illnesses and seven confirmed deaths in the U.S.
The recent episodes of lung damage and deaths are still under investigation. Adulteration, use of lower-end products, and vaping THC-containing products are some possible explanations.
In addition to the more common knowledge of damage to the lungs, vaping also has other adverse effects on the body. Vaping can cause dizziness, irregular heartbeats, and high blood pressure. It can also affect the immune system. Studies show that vaping affects 358 genes that help fight infection!
At this time, the CDC recommends people consider not using e-cigarettes. For those who continue to use, the advise is to avoid buying e-cigarettes off the streets, avoid modifying them or adding any substances to them.
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