14 Teens Hospitalized With Severe Lung Disease, Possibly From Vaping

••• 6okean/iStock/GettyImages

You heard it here first: Vaping isn’t cool anymore.

All right, fine, You probably didn’t hear it here first. Maybe you heard it from your older brother who has moved on to Juul-ing, or from this anti-vaping public service announcement that actually made it look kind of cool, or from a litany of parents and health teachers shouting that vaping isn’t actually the healthy alternative to a cigarette.

But you can hear it here again: Vaping isn’t cool anymore. Why? It could be what sent 14 previously healthy teens to the hospital for lung disease.

Midwest Outbreak

Eleven of those 14 lived in Wisconsin, according to a new press release from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, and the other three were from Illinois. Doctors described seeing confirmed cases of severe lung disease in the teens and young adults, all of whom reported vaping.

The patients’ symptoms included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain, coughing and weight loss. Some responded well to treatment, but others needed assistance breathing at least temporarily.

Doctors are still trying to figure out exactly what caused this localized outbreak, if it was definitely tied to vaping and whether these patients will have long-term health issues. They’re suggesting that anyone who uses e-cigarettes suspend their use, and to check in with their health professional if they’re experiencing any similar symptoms.

Could this Happen to Me if I Vape?

You probably already know that vaping and other forms of smoking come with severe health risks. But it’s easy to enjoy vaping with friends knowing that many of those, such as increased risks of certain types of cancers, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke, seem like diseases that only affect people later in life. And while a lifetime of smoking certainly puts people at higher risks for negative side effects, there can also be immediate consequences for any young person who picks up a vape pen.

For one, teen brains haven’t fully developed yet. When you pick up an e-cigarette that contains nicotine, it has the same effect on the brain that it does on adults: It goes right to the pleasure center of the brain and gives them a happy, tingly, feeling.

But there’s a difference between the adult and teen brain. Teens brains are more susceptible to deriving pleasure from “awards” like nicotine, so you’re at a greater risk of becoming addicted to the substance. That means a lifetime of your brain telling you that you can’t function without a super expensive, deadly product.

Adolescent lungs have also not fully developed, meaning harmful chemicals from e-cigarettes could work their way into the lungs before the organs have even finished forming.

Doctors haven’t confirmed that the cases in Wisconsin and Illinois are a direct result of vaping. They’re also working hard at finding a common thread between the vapes these patients used – since these cases occurred within a relatively close geographical area, it’s possible that they were a result of a faulty product or chemical formula that would be banned going forward.

We'll learn more about what happened in the Midwest as the investigation continues, but in the meantime, there's no good reason to pick up a vape.

About the Author

Rachelle Dragani is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn with extensive experience covering the latest innovation and development in the world of science. Her pieces on topics including DNA sequencing, tissue engineering and stem cell advances have been featured in publications including BioTechniques: the International Journal of Life Science Methods, Popular Mechanics, Futurism and Gizmodo.