Healthcare experts warn about long-term effects of vaping

Any vaping puts you at risk for lung conditions

Here’s some good news about vaping: According to the Centers for Disease Control, the number of new patients hospitalized with symptoms linked to vaping has declined since a peak in September.

The not-so-good news: The number of vaping-related emergency room visits across the country is still higher than in June 2019 when the outbreak began, and there’s concern that vaping is a ticking time bomb that could lead to serious health problems years from now.

Recent research shows patients who vape and have underlying conditions like heart disease or diabetes are more likely to be readmitted to the hospital or die. Patients who stop vaping may still develop difficulty breathing and respiratory problems.

“A couple of the people that we’ve seen hadn’t been vaping in two months,” said Dr. Sandra Adams, a pulmonologist who sees patients within the University Health System and the South Texas Veterans Health Care System. She’s also a professor with UT Health San Antonio.

There’s no indication that people who vape a lot are at greater risk of injury than those who vape a little, she said.

“People that just use and think a little bit is OK are still at risk for getting these lung conditions.”

On her website, wipediseases.org, Dr. Adams describes the most common vaping-related conditions, where fat, fluid or blood fill the lungs and restrict breathing. In the most serious cases, patients require ventilation and some patients die from these conditions.

Texas reports a large number of vaping cases

As of Jan. 7, the CDC reported 2,602 cases of vaping-related illness and 57 deaths across the United States.

Texas ranks at or near the top for the number of reported cases. The Texas Department of State Health Services had documented 236 instances of severe lung disease, including three deaths.

The Texas agency’s analysis found:

• The median age of a Texas patient was 22 years old, though ages ranged from 13 to 75
• One-fourth of Texans affected were minors
• Three-quarters were male
• 90% reported vaping THC or marijuana

THC is the ingredient in marijuana that gets users high. When examining lung tissue samples of vaping patients, researchers often found THC along with vitamin E acetate, which has been identified as a chemical of concern. Vitamin E acetate is used to dilute THC oil in vaping cartridges.

Vaping symptoms are not always obvious

While difficulty breathing and coughing are symptoms that may prompt vaping patients to seek help, Dr. Adams said patients are less likely to realize flu-like symptoms can also be linked to vaping.

“They’re coming in with fever, gastrointestinal symptoms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, things like that. And then a week to two weeks later, that’s when the shortness of breath starts. We’ve had some that have gone on to full respiratory failure needing the ventilator,” Dr. Adams said. “I’m really encouraging clinicians to ask about vaping when somebody comes in with these common symptoms.”

Dr. Adams urges vapers to see their primary care physician if they develop a fever, begin coughing, have difficulty breathing or find it difficult to climb the stairs. Be upfront about your vaping activities.

How to quit smoking or vaping

E-cigarette companies claim vaping can help cigarette smokers quit. While e-cigarettes don’t contain all the contaminants found in tobacco, the American Heart Association warns that vaping shouldn’t be seen as a safe alternative. E-cigarettes often deliver whopping doses of nicotine, a highly addictive substance that can affect brain development, increase blood pressure and contribute to the hardening of the heart’s arterial walls.

Dr. Adams recommends vapers quit by using the same proven methods that have worked for many smokers. Successful tools include nicotine replacement gum, patches, lozenges and medications.

“These are medicines that we know are effective in stopping smoking. Because there’s so much about vaping that we don’t know, I do not recommend that my patients use vaping to try to get off of cigarettes,” said Dr. Adams.

Do you know someone who wants to stop vaping? Check out the resources on smokefree.gov, the CDC’s web site, or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW (1-800-784-8669) to learn about free coaching, information and resources in your local community.