Is Vaping Bad for Your Lungs?
Vaping is a term for smoking e-cigarettes, an activity that’s becoming increasingly popular among adults and teens. When someone vapes, they inhale and exhale the vapor. While e-cigarettes and similar devices don’t contain tobacco, the vapor isn’t just water. It’s instead particles, many of which may be toxic chemicals. Along with e-cigarettes, personal vaping devices include vape pens and advanced personal vaporizers known as MODs.
One of the most popular vaping devices right now is the JUUL. This device looks somewhat like a USB flash drive, and it’s compact and easily portable. The use of a JUUL is especially common among high school and even some middle school students since it is easy to hide.
Most vape liquids have a combination of glycerin as a base, along with nicotine and flavored chemicals. In some cases, people may vape marijuana.
Parents and teens may wonder how safe vaping is and whether or not vaping is bad for their lungs. There is mounting evidence suggesting vaping might not be entirely safe, and the risks of vaping could outweigh what people see as possible benefits. Some of the currently known side effects of vaping are:
- Toxicity from the additives in liquids used to vape
- Nicotine addiction
- High blood pressure
- Increased heart rate from nicotine
- Increased risk of certain kinds of respiratory diseases, heart disease and cancers
What is COPD?
One question people often have about vaping is whether or not it can cause COPD. First, what is COPD? The acronym stands for Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. It’s a term encompassing several lung diseases. The lung diseases covered by the term COPD are:
- Chronic bronchitis
- Refractory asthma
COPD is progressive, and it’s not currently curable, but it can be managed with diagnosis and treatment. An estimated 30 million people in the United States are affected by COPD, and the primary cause is cigarette smoke exposure.
Vaping and COPD
Vaping is often viewed as an alternative to smoking cigarettes, and this can especially be the case for people who have COPD and want to do less damage to their lungs. So what is there to know about vaping and COPD?
While there is limited research, vaping may not cause COPD, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best option for someone who already has COPD.
Vaping does cause exposure to potentially toxic chemicals, and it can increase tissue damage and inflammation in the lungs which may exacerbate symptoms of COPD.
Symptoms of COPD often don’t become apparent until there is already significant damage to the lungs. These symptoms tend to worsen over time. Some of the COPD symptoms include:
- Chronic daily cough with mucus production for at least three months a year for two years
- Shortness of breath
- Tight feeling in the chest
- Having to clear your throat in the morning because of an excess buildup of mucus in the lungs
- Blueness on the lips or nails
- Frequent infections of the respiratory system
- Low energy
- Weight loss
- Swelling in the ankles, feet or legs
Research on Vaping and COPD
Vaping is relatively new, so there’s not a lot of available research particularly looking at its long-term effects. Some of the latest, limited research on vaping includes:
- A small study published in 2016 showed that products used for vaping that contain nicotine could trigger lung inflammation and cause damage to the lung tissue. Both of these effects link to the development of COPD.
- A study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine in 2017 showed oxidative stress in vapers, which is associated with lung disease
- A study published in January 2018 that looked at exposure to vapor from e-cigarettes in mice showed DNA damage to the heart, bladder and lungs. The type of damage indicated in the study links to an increased risk of not only lung problems but also heart disease and cancer.
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Leonard, Jayne. “Can Vaping Cause Lung Problems?” Medical News Today, May 29, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “5 Truths You Need to Know About Vaping.” Accessed March 28, 2019.
COPD Foundation. “What is COPD.” Accessed March 28, 2019.
Raven, Kathleen. “Your Teen is Underestimating the Health Risks of Vaping.” Yale Medicine, December 19, 2018. Accessed March 28, 2019.