In less than two months, 33 people have died from a mysterious lung illness. The only link between each case? Vaping. Though vape products were introduced in 2006, 2019 brought national attention to the dangers of vaping through illnesses and deaths. Some doctors believe these illnesses are nothing new but have only recently started being reported.
Vape Lung Illness Overview
Vape lung illnesses are a relatively new phenomenon. In August 2019, the first reported death related to vaping lung illnesses came to light. From there, the pandemic reached national attention.
By October 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that 33 people died and nearly 1,500 others developed lung illnesses from vaping. The CDC expects these numbers to increase.
However, this tally of vape illnesses and deaths may not be complete. According to the Boston Globe, some doctors suspect that vape lung illnesses have occurred much longer and affected many more than the reports suggest.
As of October 2019, researchers continue to study the effects of vaping on the lungs. Specifically, scientists want to know what chemicals — if any — lead to lung illnesses or other vaping health risks.
What Does Vaping Do to Your Lungs?
When someone vapes, they inhale a dangerous mixture of vapors, chemicals, and nicotine into their lungs. Black market or knockoff vape products can also contain other substances like tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
The mixture, sold in liquid form in a cartridge, turns into a gas when the vape device is in use.
According to the Boston Globe, doctors claim that vapors can turn back into liquids — or transform into toxic chemicals — once inside the lungs, leading to respiratory problems and lung injuries.
Notable lung injuries associated with vaping include:
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Bleeding in the lungs
- Bronchial pneumonia
- Collapsed lung
- Fluid in the lungs
- Lipoid pneumonia
- Lung infection or failure
- Popcorn lung
According to Dr. Alicia Casey, a pediatric pulmonologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, the long-term outcomes of vaping lung illnesses remain unclear. In an interview with the Boston Globe, she noted that some victims suffered from scars all over their lungs — and, as the CDC noted, dozens have already died.
Why Are Vaping Lung Illnesses on the Rise?
Nobody knows for sure why the number of vaping lung illnesses is increasing. In an interview with the Washington Post, the CDC’s Dana Meaney-Delman said, “we’re all wondering if this is new or just newly recognized.”
Other doctors agree with this viewpoint. In an interview with the Boston Globe, Dr. Casey said that, in the past, doctors probably confused vape lung illnesses with other respiratory health risks like asthma or pneumonia.
Other possible reasons why vaping lung illnesses have increased include:
- A rise in the use of black-market cartridges that include dangerous chemicals or other drugs like THC
- An increase in the number of people who vape
- Doctors failing to recognize the long-term health risks of vaping (i.e., only asking patients if they use cigarettes and not vape products)
This new outbreak of vape lung illnesses has forced doctors, researchers, and scientists to scramble for answers.
Complications from the Vape Epidemic
Part of the problem with vape lung illnesses is that they affect people in different ways. Some patients develop severe breathing problems in a matter of days, while others experience symptoms that worsen over several months.
Because of this, some researchers, such as Harvard Medical School associate professor Dr. Edward Boyer, suspect that multiple illnesses could be to blame.
The CDC also notes that there “may be more than one cause of this outbreak.”
Boyer told the Boston Globe that doctors need more data to determine the exact cause of the illnesses — a statement echoed by the CDC.
Until more information is found, more people will continue to get sick or die from vaping injuries unless they protect themselves.
How to Protect Against Vape Lung Illness
Ultimately, it’s up to you and your family to keep yourselves safe from vape-related lung problems.
Here is how to protect against vape lung illnesses:
- Stop vaping: Until scientists pinpoint the exact cause of vape lung illnesses, the CDC encourages people to stop vaping altogether if they want to stay safe. If you are the loved one of someone who vapes, explain to them that the cons of vaping outweigh the pros. Vaping can be a hard habit to break because of nicotine addiction, but it is possible.
- Monitor for any possible symptoms: If you or someone you love still vapes, keep a lookout for any symptoms of lung illness. Common symptoms include coughing up blood, breathing issues, and chest pain.
- Be honest with doctors: If you or someone you love displays symptoms of a vaping lung illness and needs to go to the hospital, make sure they tell the doctor that they have been vaping.
As reports of vape-related illnesses to spread like wildfire across the nation, it is important to protect yourself. Doctors and researchers continue to study the health effects of vaping — but at this time, the answers remain elusive.
Until a solution to this epidemic is found, everyone should know about the increased risk of life-threatening lung illnesses linked to vaping.