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Vaping illnesses
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Vaping lung illnesses on the rise again

FILE - In this April 23, 2014 file photo, a man smokes an electronic cigarette in Chicago. After the vaping epidemic worsened in 2019, the association has been urging states to make changes. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

SALT LAKE CITY– Doctors in Utah are seeing more patients with vaping-related lung illnesses.

Last year, there were many diagnoses of the disease, known by the acronym EVALI. 

Now, cases are on the rise again, whether because people think it’s safe to vape again, or because they are vaping more due to stress, according to Intermountain Healthcare Pulmonologist Dr. Denitza Blagev.

The real struggle for doctors is getting EVALI diagnosed and treated during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Someone may come in with low oxygen and shortness of breath, but people can be hesitant to say they vape,” said Dr. Blagev.

Dr. Blagev stated it’s crucial for anyone with shortness of breath and low oxygen to quit vaping.

“And for clinicians when we are seeing patients, when we suspect COVID, once we’ve ruled out COVID, be sure we are getting that vaping history and be thinking about EVALI as well,” she said.

COVID-19 and EVALI have a similar treatment in the beginning but then it varies, so the proper diagnosis is key.

Dr. Blagev said it’s hard to know whether vaping itself is a risk factor for coronavirus like smoking is. Nurses and doctors ask about tobacco use, but not necessarily about e-cigarettes. And the practice can be called different things.

“There’s no easy way for me to query that in the medical record. But I could query, how many were smoking and had a COVID diagnosis because we are so much better at obtaining that history,” she said.

Dr. Blagev has been part of research looking into the differences between respiratory diseases and the best treatments. And while vaping illnesses are more challenging to diagnose right now, it still remains an important diagnosis to consider in patients.