VAPING AND ASTHMA
Asthma is a condition that effects millions of people worldwide. It is one of the most common forms of breathing disabilities in the modern day, covering a range of issues from reduced lung capacity to life threatening asthma attacks, as well as risking increased susceptibility to diseases such as pneumonia.
Some people are born suffering from asthma, whilst others develop it throughout their lives. Although studies into the causes of asthma are still ongoing, it is widely recognised that smoking will either cause or at least exacerbate the symptoms of asthma. The long-understood links between smoking and a wide range of lung diseases has been the basis for multiple efforts to discourage asthmatics and those with lung conditions from smoking.
The relationship between vaping and asthma is an inherently newer discussion, though it has become ever more active in recent years. With efforts from organisations like Asthma UK and the British Lung Foundation, as well as general pressure from the medical community, more information is becoming available to help us understand the links between vaping and asthma. So, should you be vaping if you have asthma? To make sure we understand exactly what the dangers are, we will discuss the facts surrounding vaping and asthma that have become apparent in recent years.
VAPING AND ASTHMA: THE LINKS
The link between vaping and asthma is a topic of continual enquiry to the medical community. Although studies over the years have not provided a direct causal link, several facts have become apparent.
From as early as 2014, studies have shown a distinct link between vaping and increased irritation of the airways and lungs. A 2014 study indicated that nicotine free E-liquids exacerbated the symptoms of asthma in mice. This find was later linked specifically to the two primary ingredients of E-liquids, propylene glycol and vegetable glycerine, which were shown to induce increased mucus production, excessive coughing, reduced lung function and tightness of the chest, all of which can trigger or worsen an asthma attack. A later study in 2018 also found that certain aerosolised chemicals in E-liquids had the effect of immobilising immune cells in the throat, allowing dust and other particulate to enter the lungs.
Beyond the concerns surrounding nicotine-free E-liquids, it is understood that inhaled nicotine will inherently cause an inflammation of the lungs. Although nicotine E-liquids contain far fewer toxins and irritants than combustible tobacco, evidence indicates that they do still carry harm. As recently as early 2020, studies have indicated a link between vaping and asthma as well as COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). Though we are yet to receive a study that proves a direct causal link between vaping and asthma, this wealth of correlating cases certainly indicates that more studies need to be conducted. Asthma UK and several other organisations have said as much and it seems that, given everything these studies have indicated, developing asthma from vaping is a very real possibility. Certainly, in studies aimed at determining the cause of asthma, many consider vaping to be a distinct factor.
VAPING AND ASTHMA: OTHER LUNG DISEASES
Asthma is not the only lung condition that has been related to vaping, with COPD, pneumonia and Bronchiectasis all having been linked to vaping in various cases. One of the most infamous incidents involved an outbreak of bronchiolitis obliterans, or “Popcorn Lung” amongst factory workers who were apparently exposed to a large amount of undilute flavoured E-liquid. Causing heavy damage to lung tissue, this extremely serious disease resulted in a redressing of vaping laws and standards in the UK. Although the link between this E-liquid and the outbreak of popcorn lung was disproven, the resulting investigation did lead to the banning of diacetyl in UK E-liquids, a previously widespread flavouring that was proven to cause inflamed lymph nodes and narrowed airways. Popcorn lung still remains extremely rare amongst UK vapers, whilst trace levels of diacetyl in UK E-liquids are shown to be significantly lower than those found in conventional cigarettes.
The presence of vitamin E acetate, a common thickener in E-liquids, has been traced to exacerbating cases of acute respiratory injury amongst vapers. Other studies have found, in extremely rare cases, high levels of formaldehyde in E-liquid users. The presence of this chemical in the lungs has been related to multiple serious conditions including lung cancer, leukaemia and breast cancer. Once again, although these cases are rare, their existence at all indicates the need for further study into the effects of vaping on asthmatics and long-term lung health.
VAPING AND ASTHMA: QUITTING SMOKING
Studies have shown that many lifelong smokers will develop asthma or another lung disease at some point in their lives. For many people who want to quit smoking, vaping has generally been seen as a safer alternative to conventional cigarettes. Certainly, the vaping industry seemed at one point to believe this, and for a while vapes were widely sold as a ‘healthier’ replacement to conventional cigarettes. Whilst studies have shown that there can be as much as a 95% reduction in harmful effects from vaping as opposed to smoking, an increasing number of scientific studies have caused this perception to shift.
Many experts support the notion that vaping is a good way for a smoker with asthma to wean themselves off cigarettes. An avid smoker who has decided to switch to vapes or E-cigarettes will on average see an improvement in their lung capacity and general health. Even an individual who has developed asthma due to a smoking habit is likely to see an improvement when switching to E-cigarettes, thanks to their lacking the wider range of toxins found in combustible cigarettes, least of all carbon monoxide. However, the idea that vaping is without risk is not one that should be propagated.
VAPING AND ASTHMA: SUMMARY
There is no safe vaping, just as there is no safe smoking. The act is inherently harmful and carries similar risks to traditional methods of inhaling nicotine, even if those risks are reduced. Inhaled nicotine will still irritate the lungs and the various components of E-liquids have been shown to worsen the symptoms of asthma.
If you are suffering from asthma and are attempting to beat a nicotine habit, patches would likely be the safest way forwards for you. If you’re a CBD user looking for a better way to dose, CBD oils provide a well measured and fast hit, whilst CBD edibles can give you a more gradual and discreet experience.
For those without asthma, there seems to be a very real chance of developing it or a similar lung disease through vaping. The notion that vaping is entirely safe is an irresponsible one to embrace, both for the safety of customers and the standards of the vaping industry as a whole. The relationship between vaping and asthma is not a straightforward question to answer, but certain elements have become undeniably apparent. Although some essential questions regarding vaping and asthma remain unanswered, for the sake of health and wellbeing, it is always better to err on the side of caution.