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An Illinois resident has died from an unknown respiratory illness tied to vaping, according to an August 23 report from the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH). The IDPH is working with local health departments, other state health departments, and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to investigate the names and types of e-cigarettes, vaping products, and devices, as well as where they were obtained.
The number of cases of people reported to IDPH who have used e-cigarettes or vaped and have been hospitalized with respiratory symptoms has doubled in the past week. A total of 22 people, ranging in age from 17-38 years, have experienced respiratory illness after using e-cigarettes or vaping. IDPH is working with local health departments to investigate another 12 individuals. Affected individuals have experienced respiratory symptoms including cough, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Some also experienced vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms worsened over a period of days or weeks before admission to the hospital. NorthShore Toxicologist Jerrold Leikin, MD said the illness mimics severe pneumonia.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in many cases, including Illinois, patients have acknowledged to healthcare personnel recent use of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing products. However, no specific product has been identified in all cases, nor has any product been conclusively linked to illnesses. Even though cases appear similar, it is not clear if these cases have a common cause or if they are different diseases with similar symptoms. People who experience any type of chest pain or difficulty breathing after using e-cigarettes or vaping in the weeks or months prior to these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.
E-cigarettes are widely used by previous smokers who want to transition away from smoking tobacco products and teens who want to avoid the stigma of using regular tobacco products. Vaping devices go by a number of names: vape pens, pod mods, tanks, e-hookahs and e-cigarettes, to name a few.
Here are some more facts to consider about vaping today, approved by Christopher J. Winslow, MD, Pulmonary/Critical Care:
E-cigarettes are more popular than tobacco products. In 2015, the U.S. Surgeon General reported that e-cigarette use among high school students had increased by 900 percent, and 40 percent of young e-cigarette users had never smoked regular tobacco. Vaping is appealing to the younger generation of smokers because it doesn’t smell, which reduces the stigma of smoking. Today, vaping is officially declared an epidemic in the U.S. by the Surgeon General.
Vaping exposes you to fewer chemicals. The FDA lists 93 harmful or potentially harmful chemicals found in regular cigarettes. The National Cancer Institute (NCI) describes cigarettes as having more than 7,000 chemicals in them, many of which are toxic. True, there are fewer chemicals in e-cigarettes, but they still contain heated nicotine in the form of water vapor, which is highly addictive. Liquids used in vaping are filled with flavoring agents and other chemicals – some of which we still do not know the long-term effects.
Vaping is addictive. E-cigarettes still contain nicotine and can cause cravings and withdrawal symptoms just like normal tobacco products. Nicotine raises blood pressure and heart rate, which can lead to a risk of a heart attack. In some cases, e-cigarette users are consuming more nicotine than they would in a normal cigarette. Extra-strength cartridges have a higher concentration of nicotine and may lead to toxicity.
Nicotine impairs development. While many youths are gravitating to vaping, there’s evidence that shows nicotine’s effect on the adolescent brain can be damaging to their development. Studies have shown that nicotine can interfere with memory and attention processing.
When does it require a trip to the hospital? If you’re experiencing shortness of breath, fatigue or chest pain, increased coughing or wheezing, it’s worth taking a visit to your doctor or the ER depending on your symptoms.
It's never too early to talk to your kids or someone you may know about nicotine use. Give your loved one's space to ask questions. The bottom line is e-cigarettes and vaping come with many unknown health concerns, which are still under investigation.