Media headlines about vaping lung injuries are dominating the news, with all 50 states currently reporting cases. While there have always been warnings about the dangers of vaping, new instances of injury have now prompted the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to issue new advisories during what some would call a public health crisis.
As of December 3, 2019, 2,291 cases of vaping related lung injury have been reported, including 48 deaths. Additional deaths that could be linked to vaping are under investigation.
What’s Behind the New Vaping Lung Injuries?
The CDC has declared a new “outbreak” of EVALI (e-cigarettes, or vaping product use, associated lung injury) tied to products with THC that also contain vitamin E acetate. Vitamin E acetate has been defined as a chemical of concern by the CDC. In addition to vitamin E acetate, the organization is evaluating multiple substances and product sources.
Why Is Vitamin E Acetate a Possible Danger?
Vitamin E acetate is used as an additive thickening agent in THC-containing vaping products. Vitamin E is found in many foods, is used as a dietary supplement, and can be found in cosmetic products. Vitamin E acetate is typically not harmful to humans when ingested as a supplement or applied to the skin. However, when inhaled, it may cause problems with normal lung function.
The CDC’s Current Recommendations
The use of vaping and e-cigarettes continues to be steady, as many have the perception that it’s less dangerous than smoking. A July 2019 Gallup poll found that 8% of Americans have vaped in the last week. Further, 20% of those aged 18 to 29 vape regularly. With such a large part of the population participating in this behavior, it became critical for the CDC to issue new recommendations.
The CDC strongly recommends that people should not use any THC-containing e-cigarette or vaping product. Further, the CDC cautions against using or purchasing such products from informal sources, such as friends, family, or online dealers. While products from licensed dispensaries in states where THC is available for recreational and medicinal uses are tested, the CDC has not cleared these as being “safe.”
If consumers are unable to stop using vaping products, then they should closely monitor themselves for any possible symptoms of a lung injury. Those symptoms include but are not limited to:
These symptoms don’t appear to be linked to a lung infection but rather a lung injury. Symptoms can develop over a few days or weeks.
The Role of the Medical Community in Lung Injury Diagnosis
Radiologists are on the front lines of diagnosing vaping related lung injuries. Medical imaging is critical in detecting these conditions. Those with suspected ailments may have chest x-rays as well as CT scans. This information then provides clinicians with the visual data to determine if bilateral lung opacities, pulmonary opacities, or ground-glass opacities are present.
Most acute care facilities are now hyper-aware of the possibility of more vaping related lung injuries due to the media focus and the medical community’s concern. When a patient shows possible symptoms and has a history of vaping or e-cigarette use, they can be swiftly sent to imaging to check the condition of the lungs.
Should this become an epidemic, it’s highly likely there will be a demand for more imaging equipment or the possible development of new medical devices to help with diagnosis and treatment. As is the case with any public health scare, professionals will soon be seeking assistance to diagnosis and treat it more effectively and efficiently.
Will This Epidemic Spur Opportunity & Innovation?
Additionally, on the research side of the medical community, medical devices may be sought that enable experts to discern root causes better. As noted, the CDC has linked vitamin E acetate as a contributor to the rise of injury, but there may be more culprits that have yet to be detected.
Any public health concern involves numerous stakeholders to devise a resolution or steps to take to eliminate or mitigate the danger. However, in times like these, there is also the possibility for opportunity and innovation.
Could the future of EVALI prevention lie in new medical devices that can automatically test for toxic ingredients or test the purity? Could new mobile imaging tools accelerate diagnosis so that treatment can begin faster? These are all questions that the healthcare community and its providers will need to ponder.
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About the Author
Carevoyance contributor Beth Osborne is a professional writer and content marketer with multiple years of experience in healthcare IT marketing. Learn more about her by visiting her website.