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MURRAY – Intermountain Healthcare announced the results of a new study that shows there are long-term dangers related to vaping e-cigarettes.
The study indicated there is lasting damage from vaping for some patients and not just in the lungs. Researchers are especially concerned because the majority of patients are relatively young.
Before COVID-19 arrived and grabbed the attention of the medical world, many pulmonologists were focused on e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury, also known as EVALI. What they found is that not all patients completely recover.
"We're still seeing people who come to the intensive care unit with EVALI," said Dr. Denitza Blagev, a pulmonary and critical care physician at Intermountain Healthcare and the principal investigator of the study.
Vaping did not dissipate during the pandemic. Some may have forgotten the serious complications of e-cigarette or vaping associated lung injury discovered nearly two years ago when patients were showing up at hospitals with pneumonia-like symptoms with no explanation.
"What nobody knew at the time, and what we're starting to understand now, is what happens to people that have EVALI a year later," said Blagev.
She said not all patients bounce back to normal after they've been treated for e-cigarette or vaping-associated lung injury.
"Most people do recover," she said. "But there is still a significant proportion of patients, not the majority, that has significant breathlessness."
Researchers examined 91 patients who suffered from EVALI one year after their initial diagnosis. The average age of patients was 31.
They found that 15% of the patients have severe trouble breathing, needing to stop for a breath after walking 100 yards, or too breathless to leave the house. What surprised Blagev the most was that 39% had mild cognitive impairment.
"These are young people without an underlying history of dementia, or Alzheimer's, you're really concerned about these long-term consequences of this disease," she said. "It's good that it's mild. But, it's still quite concerning for people that are that young."
Researchers also found that 57% of the patients have anxiety and 34% of the patients have depression.
"People are not back to normal at the end of that," the pulmonologist said. "A proportion of patients have significant shortness of breath, mild cognitive impairment, and then really a large proportion of people have anxiety and depression."
Most people do recover. But there is still a significant proportion of patients, not the majority, that has significant breathlessness.
–Dr. Denitza Blagev, principal study investigator, Intermountain Healthcare
She expected to see lasting lung damage, but not necessarily cognitive impairment.
"That's concerning to us because this is a young population," Blagev said.
Despite the dangers, CDC surveys showed 10% of middle school students and 27% of high school students reported vaping in the past 30 days.
"It's only increasing, and we can't afford to just sort of say, well I guess they want to vape, and it's not a big deal," Blagev said. "It is a big deal, and we're just at the start of finding out how big of a deal it is."
They still want to find out whether these consequences linger in five or 10 years, which will be their next phase of the study.