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When electronic cigarettes first came onto the market, they were advertised as being “safer” than regular cigarettes because they didn’t contain tobacco. Recent studies have cast doubt on this idea, however, with evidence showing that several of the other ingredients present in the e-cigarette nicotine-solutions may indeed, be harmful.

According to a recent case study published in Pediatrics, for example, a previously healthy 18-year-old woman developed hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also called “wet lung” disease, after just three weeks of using e-cigarettes.

Teen Diagnosed with Wet Lung Disease After Using E-Cigarettes

The young woman was working as a hostess at a rural Pennsylvania restaurant when she started using e-cigarettes. She had used them for only three weeks when she had to go to the hospital because of symptoms like chest pain, cough, and difficulty breathing.

While at the hospital, she experienced respiratory failure, which means she couldn’t get enough oxygen into her blood. Doctors had to put her on a respirator and had to place chest tubes to drain the fluid from her lungs. Then they took images of her lungs that revealed thickening, fluid buildup, cellular debris, and more.

They tested the patient for infection, but that came up negative. After a thorough work-up, they diagnosed her with hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also called “wet lung” disease. The lungs become inflamed because of an allergic reaction to something inhaled—in this case, the vapor from the e-cigarettes. It can occur as soon as 4-12 hours after exposure to the allergen, or it can take time to develop.

Symptoms of the disease include fever, chills, coughing, shortness of breath, and body aches. It may seem similar to the flu at first, but then as breathing becomes more difficult it reveals itself as something more focused in the lungs.

The good news is that with treatment, the teen recovered, though she did have to spend five days in the hospital. The doctors warned that pediatricians should be sure to talk to their patients about the potential harms of vaping.

Other Studies Reveal E-cigarette Health Risks

Other studies have demonstrated vaping risks. In a 2017 study review, for example, researchers reported that propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin, both of which are frequently used as base constituents in e-cigarette nicotine solutions, produce potentially toxic compounds including formaldehyde, a known carcinogen, and acetaldehyde, which is known to be toxic to the respiratory system. They also stated that recent survey data shows teens with asthma have a higher prevalence of e-cigarette use than those who don’t have asthma, noting that inhalation of some flavoring agents used in e-cigarettes is reported to cause or worsen asthma.

In January 2018, researchers found that e-cigarette vapor induced DNA damage in lung, bladder, and heart cells, and also reduced the body’s ability to repair damage in the lungs, mainly because of the nicotine.

Despite these and other concerning studies, e-cigarettes have grown in popularity among young people. In December 2016, the U.S. Surgeon General’s report noted that the flavors in e-cigarettes entice young people to use them and that those who used these devices were more likely to use real cigarettes later.

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