Health

Is Vaping Making People Sick?

The CDC recently announced that it’s found over 150 people with serious respiratory illnesses and a history of vaping. We don’t know yet whether vaping caused them to get sick, but an investigation is ongoing. Here’s what you need to know.

What’s going on?

In the past two months, the CDC has collected 153 reports of “possible cases” of a severe lung illness. The concerning details are that the illness does not seem to be infectious (so, not caused by a virus or by bacteria) and that the patients all reported vaping before becoming sick.

Nicotine and THC (cannabis) vapes are both under suspicion. So far, there isn’t a particular product or device that’s been singled out.

Since this is all so new, and no cause has been identified, it’s also possible that the cases aren’t a new disease at all. Maybe there are several different illnesses that have been lumped together, and vaping is so common that its association with the condition is a coincidence. The CDC, FDA, and state health departments are trying to figure this out.

What are the symptoms?

People with this condition experienced “a gradual start of symptoms” over the course of days or weeks that often included coughing, chest pain and shortness of breath. Some also experienced vomiting, diarrhea, and fatigue.

Here is a notice intended for medical professionals that gives some more details about what doctors should be looking for and what past cases have looked like. It notes that some patients’ breathing was bad enough to require a ventilator, but that they improved when given corticosteroids. So far, no one has died from this condition.

What should I do if I think this is happening to me?

Any time you have serious difficulty breathing, you should seek medical help anyway. So that’s your first step.

Also, make sure you tell your provider that you vape and/or use cannabis or THC-containing products. They’re not trying to get you in trouble; they just want to know what’s going on and how best to treat you. The CDC recommends that providers alert their local and state health departments if they see people with “significant respiratory illness of unclear etiology and a history of vaping.”

You or your provider might also want to make a safety report to the FDA about the vaping products you’ve been using. (That goes for any health issues or problems that may be related to tobacco products.)

But there are plenty of other reasons why a person might have respiratory symptoms. So far this vaping-related illness—if it even is a specific illness and not just a coincidence—has only been found in a handful of people. So just from the numbers, you’re more likely to have a common respiratory illness (asthma, for example) than the particular combination of symptoms the CDC is looking out for right now. Either way, your best bet is to seek medical care and have a conversation about your concerns.


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