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Doctors unsure of long term damage from vaping related illness

(Photo: Robert F. Bukaty, Associated Press)

SALT LAKE CITY – Just how sick are the people coming down with vaping-related illness?  Doctors in Utah say the vast majority have to be hospitalized and about a quarter of them end up in the ICU.  However, they don’t know if these patients will have to deal with similar symptoms in the future.

Some doctors are determined to find these answers.

When it comes to these cases of pneumonitis, doctors have more questions than answers.  What’s causing them?  Why are some patients seemingly more sick than others?  Doctors say they have a hard enough time keeping up with the number of patients they’re seeing, and hospitalizations aren’t slowing down.

Doctor Dixie Harris with Intermountain Healthcare leads the Vaping Associated Pulmonary Injury Team.  She says, for a while, doctors thought it was caused by Vitamin E or lipids from the oils being absorbed into the lungs.  However, Harris says they’re not so sure, anymore.  It could be caused by toxins, but, Harris says they don’t know if these materials are always toxic, or if they’re only toxic when they’re inhaled.

“You can eat things that won’t bother your stomach because you have acids, whereas, if you inhale it, it would be very irritating to the lungs,” Harris says.

Doctors estimate only 10 percent of people who develop these lung problems don’t need hospitalization.  The rest do.  So, what’s going to happen to these patients after they’re discharged?

Harris says, “We’ve seen, probably, about 20 percent of the patients, so far, in clinic and I would say most of them have some evidence of some residual damage to the lungs.”

However, they’re not sure if this damage is going to cause permanent health problems.  So, she plans to start a longitudinal study about these cases.

“Going forward, our anticipation is to reevaluate in one to two years to learn more about what’s going to happen to the lungs and if there are residual effects,” she says.

In the meantime, she has a strong message for all of the people coming down with this illness.

“We’re working really hard with our patients after they’ve been so sick, [telling them] absolutely don’t start vaping, again.  We’ve had some vape again and land back in the hospital.”