If there was ever a time to quit vaping, it’s now.
Using electronic cigarettes, which involves inhaling a mix of flavors, nicotine and chemicals and then spewing it out into a fine mist, is never safe ― but especially not during the coronavirus pandemic.
COVID-19 preys on the lungs. Once the infection reaches your nose or throat, it starts inching its way toward the respiratory tract, triggering inflammation along the way.
To overcome the infection swiftly, your lungs need to be in tip-top shape so they can put up a good fight. Vaping damages the lungs and depresses the immune system in such a way that the body will have a much tougher time recovering from COVID-19.
Research on vaping’s long-term health effects is still limited. But given what we know about smoking, COVID-19 and other respiratory infections, health experts confidently say that vaping will not only increase your risk of developing complications from the coronavirus, but will boost your chances of spreading it to others as well. In fact, some states are even issuing specific health advisories on vaping and COVID-19.
Here are some of the scary effects vaping may have when it comes to coronavirus:
Vaping raises your chance of infection
The most obvious issue with vaping is the damage it inflicts on the lungs.
When you vape, you take in harsh chemicals that immediately damage the cells in your respiratory system responsible for governing the immune system, which is the body’s first line of defense for knocking out respiratory illnesses like COVID-19, according to Alexa Mieses, a family physician in Durham, North Carolina, and assistant professor of family medicine for the University of North Caroline School of Medicine.
“Almost immediately, your immune system is preoccupied with dealing with the damage that vaping poses to your lungs,” Mieses said, adding that this makes it much harder for your body to fight off a pathogen like the coronavirus.
Because vaping suppresses the lungs’ immune response, it increases the severity and duration of other respiratory infections like bronchitis, influenza and pneumonia, according to Robert Jackler, chair of the department of otolaryngology at Stanford Medicine.
Vaping “is thought to delay recovery just like smokers have a hacking cough after flu or other coronaviruses and colds that go to the chest,” Jackler said.
Though we’re still learning how vaping may affect one’s risk for COVID-19, health experts suspect it follows a pattern similar to other respiratory infections.
It hurts the lungs’ ability to get oxygen
COVID-19 causes the lungs to inflame and swell, which makes it harder for them to absorb oxygen. (Jackler said the infection can diminish the lungs’ ability to do so by about 50%).
A healthy person can use supplemental oxygen and make it through the infection. But if your lungs are already diminished from smoking or vaping, they have a harder time getting oxygen. Throw COVID-19 into the mix and your body has an even tougher time getting enough oxygen.
“The pulmonary reserve — your ability to withstand deterioration in the lungs — is very much influenced by your smoking [and vaping] history,” Jackler said. This may put vapers at a higher risk for experiencing a more serious form of COVID-19.
Vape clouds can spread the virus
When a person vapes, they inhale from the device, the vapor plume mixes with secretions in the lungs, throat and nose, then they blow it out.
“There are two things that are in the cloud — there are droplets of the vaping material but they are contaminated by the secretions from inside your lungs that may be rich with the virus,” Jackler said.
Here’s the concerning part about all this. Coronavirus is predominantly spread through respiratory droplets that are expelled when people speak, cough or sneeze. Respiratory droplets are large enough that gravity is able to pull the droplets down, so they don’t stay in the air for long.
The aerosols that are released in a vape cloud, however, are so minuscule they are able to hang in the air.
“If somebody has just been using vaping in a small room, especially with one of the high powered devices, their own pulmonary secretions may be suspended in the air for minutes or even a couple of hours after they vaped,” Jackler said.
If the vaper had COVID-19 and released enough mist into the air containing those tiny contaminated aerosols, another person could theoretically contract the virus from simply entering the room soon after. The process is similar to how health care workers can catch the virus through the air because of medical procedures they may have to perform on patients.
You touch your face over and over
The act of vaping itself inherently presents a major risk in terms of contracting the virus.
You put something in your hands and fingers, then repeatedly bring it to your mouth — which is exactly what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been urging us to avoid doing.
“Unless you’re washing your hands diligently before you pick up that vaping device and frankly cleaning off the vaping device, that’s exactly the kind of thing that can implant the virus in your mouth and lead to infection,” Jackler said.
Another major concern Jackler has is that vaping is largely a social activity for younger people. Teens tend not to vape alone, but in groups.
“They often share the vaping device, passing it around, and of course that’s a risk for transmitting COVID infection,” Jackler said.
Even though it’s thought that younger people have an easier time recovering from COVID-19, they can still get seriously sick — especially if their lungs are already damaged from vaping. And even if some younger vapers do have milder symptoms, they may be the so-called silent spreaders who are accelerating the spread of COVID-19 at an alarming rate.
Health experts want you to quit now
There are immediate benefits to quitting, so the sooner you pack away your vape, the better off you’ll be if you contract COVID-19.
If you’re addicted to vaping, reach out to your physician to discuss your options. Gum, toothpicks, and candy may be a viable substitute. If you’re addicted to nicotine, Jackler recommended trying a nicotine substitute like lozenges, gums or patches, which don’t involve inhaling chemicals or constantly touching your mouth. Doing so will help cut your chances of getting infected and boost your lungs’ immune function as well.
“Stop vaping yesterday,” Mieses said. “Vaping and smoking do not help a person in any way shape or form when they’re fighting a respiratory infection” like COVID-19.
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