Vaping Cough: Vaping and Effects on Respiratory Health

Mikaela Millan

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December 3, 2021
CoughPro is not a medical product. It is a wellness app intended only for users to obtain a better understanding of their cough. It is not intended to diagnose, monitor, or treat any illness.

We at Hyfe, Inc., are a company devoted to working on tools to better understand the importance of cough. It is Hyfe’s intention in the future to seek regulatory approval for medical products that analyze cough in order that they may be used to diagnose, monitor, and facilitate better treatment of respiratory illnesses.

A woman vaping
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There are a lot of misconceptions surrounding vaping, cough, and its influence on respiratory health. You may know someone who justifies their vaping habit by saying that at least it is not as bad as smoking cigarettes of the burning variety. However, research on the harmful effects of vaping continues to grow. Therefore, it might be worth taking a look at how vaping affects your body, particularly your lungs, as well as the risk it poses for COVID-19 infection.

Before we go deeper, a little public service announcement: regardless if you vape or not, but you know someone who does, please share this article with them.

What Happens When You Vape?

We already know that vaping is harmful to the body, but how exactly does this happen? To start, the toxic chemicals in e-cigarettes impede mucus clearance. When you breathe in foreign bodies, your airways secrete mucus to prevent them from reaching the lungs. Hair-like fibers called cilia “sweep” these foreign substances upward and away from the vital gas exchange organs. These fibers are impaired by the vaping chemicals, making the mucus harder to clear. This deterioration is harmful because, besides dehydrating your airway, it also thickens your phlegm. And, we all know that thicker phlegm is tougher to expel or cough out. All that trapped phlegm can then lead to several illnesses and infections. 

Many people think that they are doing themselves a favor by switching to vaping instead of smoking. However, research shows that just one vaping session delivers way more nicotine to the lungs than smoking one cigarette. This just tells us that regardless of its form, substances that alter the function and integrity of the airway can only mean bad news. 

What Chemicals Are in Vaping Liquids?

Vaping liquids are usually composed of flavorings, aromatics, and nicotine. The most controversial ingredient, though, is vitamin E. It functions as the delivery agent of the vaping liquid and may be irritating to the lungs. Here are the common substances in e-liquids: 

  • Diacetyl - deepens the flavors in your e-cigarette and is harmful to the airway
  • Formaldehyde - is usually used as a preservative in cadavers and is known to cause lung and heart disease
  • Acrolein - a toxic chemical used as a weed killer

Knowing what is in your e-cigarette now will hopefully make you think twice about taking that next hit. Because of these, it is no wonder that lung diseases are on the rise for people who vape. 

Which Lung Conditions Associated With Vaping?

A man vaping

How bad can it be, right? It is just vapor. But here are just some of the terrifying lung diseases that vaping can cause: 

  • Lipoid Pneumonia - While infection usually causes this respiratory disease, in this type of pneumonia, fatty acids from the harmful oils in vaping liquids enter the lungs and cause inflammation
    • Symptoms: chronic cough, shortness of breath, and coughing up blood
  • “Popcorn” Lung - a physician discovered this disease, also known as Bronchiolitis Obliterans or just BO, in 2000 when workers in a popcorn factory got sick); it happens when the diacetyl present in the vaping fluid scarres the airways
    • Symptoms: coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath
  • Primary Spontaneous Pneumothorax (Collapsed Lung) - This is a medical emergency, wherein vaping can cause rupture of usually benign blisters that develop in the lungs
    • Symptoms: sharp chest or shoulder pain, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing
  •  Cancer - Although the research is currently not conclusive, there is a likely risk since vaping introduces harmful chemicals into the lungs.

These are just some of the many illnesses you can acquire through vaping. What you may take as a sudden episode of breathlessness or a simple cough could actually be a sign of something a lot more serious. So it pays to know what to look out for, especially in this time of COVID-19 when you might need to take a cough more seriously. 

Can Smoking and Vaping Worsen COVID-19 Infections?

We already know that vaping causes a host of harmful conditions, but what happens if you layer on COVID-19? EVALI (E-cigarette or Vaping-Associated Lung Injury) is an umbrella term that covers many acute respiratory illnesses. These conditions are often associated with coughing, rapid and shallow breathing, and shortness of breath. What happens in your lungs is inflammation, impaired air sacs that are essential for oxygen exchange, and some parts affected with pneumonia. COVID-19 would only serve to amplify all these negative changes in the body. 

Vaping is clearly harmful both to yourself and to others. Through vaping, you can spread COVID-19, even if you don't cough. For example, suppose you were an asymptomatic person infected with COVID-19, and you are vaping. In that case, you can quickly spread the virus to other people by coughing. Moreover, the difficulty in differentiating a cough caused by smoking versus COVID-19 further complicates the problem. Additionally, vaping involves hand-to-mouth contact. Thus, it is easier to spread the virus to surfaces you touch, which other people may also touch.

A woman checking her phone and smoking

Summary

Vaping causes just as much (if not more) damage to your airways as smoking, including possible symptoms like cough. It not only impairs the normal function of your lungs, but it also makes you susceptible to serious lung diseases, among them COVID-19. With the information gathered here, you hopefully now have a greater awareness of the implications of vaping on your body. Hopefully, you will be able to apply the smoking cessation measures so you can protect yourself and your family from lung disease and COVID-19 as well.

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