Vaping dangers increase across nation, reach Southeast campus
E-cigarettes and vapes have grown in popularity in the last five years, but with vaping-related illnesses on the rise, the dangers of using the tobacco alternative are garnering national attention.
As of Aug. 22, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced 193 potential cases of severe lung illness associated with e-cigarette use in 22 states.
One such case happened on the campus of Southeast Missouri State University to senior Brianna Sikes, who became sick shortly after being dropped off on campus Aug. 11. Sikes communicated by text message Monday with the Arrow, as she was unable to speak by phone.
Sikes developed a fever and began vomiting Aug. 14. The following day, she said she couldn’t get out of bed. By Aug. 16, Sikes visited the Southeast Campus Health Clinic, where clinic staff ran her vitals and discovered extremely low oxygen levels and a rapid heart rate. Sikes was sent immediately to the emergency room at SoutheastHEALTH.
It was there Sikes said she was diagnosed with double pneumonia and began treatment, but her condition quickly worsened, and she was sent to the Intensive Care Unit.
Sikes soon had to be transferred to St. Louis for medical care, but on the trip to the hospital, her condition worsened. The ambulance turned back to SoutheastHEALTH and Sikes was intubated before making the two-hour trip to Mercy Hospital. Once there, Sikes was diagnosed with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome — a progressive disease that typically occurs in critically ill patients, according to the Mayo Clinic website — and placed on a ventilator.
Sikes’ mother Shala Hatley-Proemsey said her daughter had to communicate through writing while on the ventilator. Sikes said it was difficult to speak at full volume three days after being removed from the ventilator.
“If I would have waited another day to see the doctor, it would have been ten times worse,” Sikes said. “If the doctors had continued to treat for double pneumonia, I would have major deficits that I don’t have right now.”
Sikes said she never expected to be fighting for her life as a result of vape use.
“I think that the issue is going to get worse before it gets better,” Sikes wrote. “With cigarettes, you know the outcome. But I didn’t expect to be put in a situation where the end of my life could be at 21-years-old [because of vaping].”
The fad may have claimed its first fatality, as the CDC is investigating a possible vaping-related death in Illinois, according to CBS News.
“The severity of illness people are experiencing is alarming and we must get the word out that using e-cigarettes and vaping can be dangerous,” Illinois Public Health Department Director Ngozi Ezike said in a news release.
Reports from across the country show symptoms of vaping-related respiratory illnesses included coughing, shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue. More serious cases include symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting. Symptoms tend to worsen over a period of days or weeks before victims go to the hospital, CBS News reported Saturday.
Some patients experienced progressive respiratory compromise requiring mechanical ventilation but subsequently improved with corticosteroids, according to the CDC.
Brad Bittle, pulmonologist at Cape Pulmonology and Sleep Medicine, expanded on how patients like Sikes may become ill.
Bittle said people who get a large exposure to certain chemicals through vaping can trigger a response that causes inflammation in the lungs. If the blood vessels in the lung tissue become “leaky,” the serum component of the bloodstream can leak out into the air sacks, making it difficult to breathe and perhaps require mechanical dilatory support.
Many reported cases of e-cigarette related illnesses involve the use of juices that contain tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), the psychoactive chemical found in cannabis, according to the CDC.
“Several health departments are now linking street vapes containing THC or synthetic drugs to these illnesses, and we remain confident that this is the case across the country,” president of the American Vaping Association Gregory Conley told USA Today.
According to the Surgeon General, e-cigarettes can contain potentially harmful ingredients outside of THC. Some potentially dangerous ingredients are ultrafine particles, volatile organic compounds, nickel and lead and diacetyl — a chemical linked to serious lung disease.
The CDC said in an emergency release it is actively assisting state health departments with their epidemiological and laboratory investigations by facilitating the sharing of information between state health departments, developing data collection tools and identifying options to test vaping products.
Vaping was originally introduced — and is often still advertised — as a safer alternative to smoking. Many professionals are now discovering that may not always be the case.
“E-cigarettes are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, and there are several chemicals in the smoke from vaping that can cause pulmonary problems,” Bittle said. “It’s safe to say that, while people think vaping is less dangerous than cigarettes, that’s simply not the case — there is no safe.”
Although there has been a spike in vaping-related illnesses in recent weeks, Bittle said links to respiratory diseases were noticed in 2015. He speculated these illnesses have been popping up since e-cigarettes became popular, but professionals are just now making the connection.
“I think once people’s index of suspicion goes up, then lung problems that they might have associated with something else are now being associated with vaping,” Bittle said.
As for Sikes, she is set to return to classes Sept. 2.
For information on the dangers of electronic cigarettes visit www.cdc.gov/e-cigarettes. Other links provided below for more information as well.