An 18-year-old woman from Pennsylvania developed hypersensitivity pneumonitis—also known as “wet lung”—after just three weeks of using an e-cigarette.
The condition was so serious that she had respiratory failure and was intubated. This means a ventilator was needed to help her breathe because she wasn’t getting enough oxygen.
The teen went to the emergency room at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center last year because she had concerning symptoms. She was experiencing shortness of breath, coughing, and an intense, stabbing chest pain when breathing in and out. She didn’t have a fever or a runny, stuffy nose which helped doctors rule out any respiratory infections like the flu.
“The ultimate diagnoses was hypersensitivity pneumonitis — ‘pneumonitis’ means inflammation of the lung, ‘hypersensitivity’ means due to an overreaction by the body’s immune system to something,” study coauthor Dr. Daniel J. Weiner shared.
The woman was treated with steroids. In addition to the respirator, she also needed to have tubes inserted to drain the fluid from her lungs.
The woman had mild asthma in the past and only recently started using an e-cigarette. Testing showed that her inflammation wasn’t due to bacteria, a fungus, or a virus. Doctors then concluded that vaping was the most likely cause of the inflammation.
“We cannot prove beyond any doubt that it was due to an e-cigarette, but the development of her symptoms around the same time she started using an e-cigarette allowed us to conclude that was the cause,” Dr. Weiner added further.
E-cigarettes and vape pens are still fairly new, so not much research on its long-term effects on the body has been done.
Some research suggests that it can damage mouth cells, similar to the way tobacco does. Some types of e-juice—the liquid that is turned into vapor, and usually contains nicotine and artificial flavorings—have been found to contain diacetyl, a chemical known to cause bronchitis obliterans, or ‘popcorn lung.’
The lack of research on e-cigarettes and vape pens has medical experts particularly alarmed about how popular it is among teenagers. Its use among high school students has increased by 900% between 2011 and 2015. Other factors, like the gadget itself can be dangerous. Just the other day, a TV producer died after his vape pen exploded and caused a fire in his home.
Although some people use vaping as a replacement for smoking, numbers suggest that some people who have never smoked at all are picking up the habit.
This particular woman’s case of ‘wet lung’ is an ongoing study by the medical journal Pediatrics. Her name has been withheld for privacy.