Vaping Side Effects: What You Should Know

By Terez Malka, MD
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June 10, 2022

Vaping using e-cigarettes and other nicotine-based devices has risen in popularity in recent years.

As of 2018, just over 14% of adults in the United States have used an e-cigarette or vape.

The use of e-cigarettes also declines the older the population is, meaning younger people seem to be more interested in the technology.

The long-term risks associated with vapes and vaping aren’t yet well known, but we do know the dangers of nicotine and other ingredients found in the e-liquids used in vapes and electronic cigarettes. 

In this article, I’ll explain both common and uncommon side effects associated with vaping, as well as potential long-term effects, reasons to quit vaping, and when to consult a doctor.

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Vaping Side Effects: Common

Side effects from vaping typically start with mild symptoms like coughing or headaches but can be serious enough to lead to hospitalization.

Common side effects include:

  • Coughing: Coughing can be caused by inhaling foreign substances into the lungs. Most people who vape for the first time report coughing in response. It’s also the most common immediate side effect of vaping or using an e-cigarette.
  • Dry mouth: Dry mouth occurs when your saliva glands do not have enough saliva or hydration to keep your mouth wet. Propylene glycol, also known as vegetable glycerin, is a common ingredient in e-liquids and can cause mouth dryness.
  • Headaches: A social media review found headaches to be one of the most commonly reported side effects of vaping. Many people who develop migraines and other headaches attribute the trigger of their headaches to exposure to nicotine, and research confirms this association. 
  • Shortness of breath: Exposure to inhaled chemical flavorings doubles the likelihood of experiencing shortness of breath and a chronic cough. Of all e-cigarette flavors tested in a recent study, 92% included one of three dangerous chemical flavorings.
  • Heart palpitations: Nicotine is a sympathomimetic drug, meaning it increases your heart rate and general cardiac activity. At least one study suggests that using e-cigarettes is directly associated with an increased risk of cardiac events like heart attacks.
  • Burning or itchy throat: Tweets using the words “hot” and “throat” dominated conversations around vaping in a social media overview. Burning and irritating sensations might be caused by strong nicotine or because someone is new to vaping. Some say that these sensations go away after “getting used” to vaping.
  • Dizziness: Dizziness is a commonly reported symptom in 15-20% of vape users.

Vaping Side Effects: Uncommon

These side effects of vaping are less common, but many are considerably more dangerous. 

  • Acute respiratory failure: Patients with no previous lung issues or disease have been hospitalized for acute respiratory failure after using vape products. While more research is needed, studies are beginning to document the concerning relationship between vaping and acute respiratory failure.
  • Seizures: Nicotine overdose can increase your risk of seizures due to its activity in the brain. Since vape liquid contains high levels of nicotine, accidentally ingesting it or using too much can cause seizures.
  • Sudden death: While the link has not been proven, some patient cases have suggested that vaping can cause changes in the electrical conduction of the heart, which could increase the risk of sudden death in those with certain heart conditions. This is suspected to be a reaction resulting from toxic effects of nicotine but also flavorings and solvents.

Serious Long-term Effects of Vaping

The long-term health effects of vaping are not yet well understood.

However, there are studies on prolonged use of nicotine, general smoking, and effects of ingredients found in vape and e-cigarette products that can be discussed.

Prolonged nicotine use can lead to heart disease, blood clots, and stomach ulcers.

General vape use has also been associated with overall reduced lung function. Specific ingredients found in the e-liquids of vapes and e-cigarettes products have been associated with dangerous consequences.

Propylene glycol is an ingredient present in vape liquid that has been associated with asthma and popcorn lung, a type of dangerous, permanent lung damage. The risk of addiction is also important to keep in mind. 

More than half of young adult e-cigarette users surveyed in a recent study felt that they were addicted to vaping to some degree.

This is concerning considering that addiction to nicotine is one of the leading causes of preventable death in the United States.

Vapes often contain nicotine that is more addictive than the nicotine in traditional cigarettes.

Smoking and vaping also put you in direct contact with known carcinogens, which are chemicals that are known to cause cancer.

Traditional smokers and e-cigarette smokers are both at risk for the large list of cancers that nicotine can trigger in nearly every organ of the human body. 

How Vaping Affects Your Lungs

Substances like Vitamin E acetate, nicotine, propylene glycol and other ingredients can damage your lungs in a variety of ways.

E-cigarette or vaping use-associated lung injury (EVALI) is a general term for lung injuries and damage resulting from vape use. 

As of 2020, over 2800 hospitalizations from EVALI were reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). All patients had used vaping products before.

Experts think that vitamin E acetate and other ingredients are the main cause of EVALI.

This is because vitamin E acetate has been found in the lungs of all patients with EVALI, regardless of geographic location or demographic information.

Diagnosis only occurs through a process of elimination, but typical symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath, fever, cough, vomiting, diarrhea, headache, dizziness, rapid heart rate, and chest pain

EVALI can cause respiratory failure, permanent lung damage, and even death.

Which is Worse: Vaping vs Cigarettes

Both vaping and cigarettes have drawbacks.

There is more scientific data pointing to the harm of traditional cigarettes because they’ve been around longer. 

When e-cigarettes came into mainstream markets, they were advertised as a way to reduce the harms associated with cigarette smoking.

However, it’s difficult to compare the two because there is no direct relationship between the number of puffs on an e-cigarette and the number of traditional cigarettes smoked.

And more and more research is finding vaping to cause the same types of health consequences as traditional cigarettes, and even more.

If you started vaping to quit smoking, the CDC still recommends that you stick to vaping rather than “switching back” since the harms of traditional cigarettes are so well studied.

But the best option for your health is to quit completely. 

Reasons to Quit Vaping

The benefits of quitting vaping or stopping a nicotine addiction are exponential.

Not only will you be giving your lungs a break, but you’ll reap other health benefits, and you won’t expose other people to second-hand smoke or vapors (also known to cause respiratory damage).

Here are some other reasons to quit smoking and/or vaping:

  • Set a good example for the young people around you and in your life
  • Improve your general quality of life
  • Reduce your risk of cardiovascular events
  • Higher chance of survival after a cancer diagnosis
  • Reduce your risk of lung infection, lung failure, and permanent lung damage
  • Reduce your risk of death
  • Remove all sources of nicotine from your home, which can cause overdoses in children and pets
  • Reduce or end symptoms of addiction and dependence
  • Allow your heart, blood vessels, and lungs to heal from prolonged exposure to irritants

How to Quit Vaping

You can start your journey to quit vaping even if you don’t feel ready.

Simply deciding you want to stop is a valuable part of the process.

Here are some more techniques and tools to help you quit vaping:

  • Make a unique plan. Set a date to begin quitting. Decide how to reduce your vaping, whether it’s one less smoke break a day or removing the social cues that encourage vaping. You can try quitting cold-turkey and switching to a nicotine substitute like gum or a patch, or you may decide to wean yourself off more slowly over time. 
  • Keep your mind occupied. Try exercising, chewing gum, or doing something that involves your hands to distract yourself from cravings. Be aware of situations in which you are likely to give in to cravings and work to manage or even avoid them.
  • Delay giving in to cravings. Telling yourself to wait can be more effective than trying to resist the urge altogether. See if you can go another 10 minutes before vaping, then extend it to 20. The urge might pass given this extra time.
  • Focus on why quitting matters to you. Write down all of your reasons for quitting and how your life will change as a result. These can range from saving money to improving your health to having more family time. Keep it as a reminder somewhere you’ll see it often.
  • Seek support. Turn to your friends or family for moral and social support. You can find online groups to mutually encourage people to quit on most social media platforms.
  • Use medical treatment. There are prescription medications that can help you manage the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and help you to quit.  A healthcare professional can prescribe these when appropriate and also help you wean off nicotine slowly using nicotine replacement products like gum or patches. There are medically supervised programs that combine peer support, therapy, and medications that can help you manage your cravings and symptoms and support you as you quit.
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When to See a Medical Provider

Vapes have differing levels of nicotine.

A nicotine overdose is a medical emergency that requires immediate care.

If you see any combination of the following symptoms within 15-60 minutes of vaping, call the National Poison Control Center at 800-222-1222:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea or stomach ache
  • Eye irritation
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety and restlessness
  • Sweating
  • Tremors

If you notice the following symptoms, call 9-1-1 or seek emergency medical care right away:

  • Confusion
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors
  • Seizures
  • Heart palpitations
  • Chest pain
  • Severe dizziness or faintness

The signs and symptoms of acute respiratory failure and EVALI are primarily severe difficulty breathing that may be accompanied by fainting, dizziness, weakness, fever, and cough.

These are medical emergencies, and you should seek immediate medical attention if you think you are experiencing respiratory failure, EVALI, or nicotine overdose.

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Frequently Asked Questions

What are five dangers of vaping?
Five dangers of vaping include the potential for respiratory illness, increased likelihood of cardiovascular emergencies, long-term lung damage, developing asthma, and sudden death.
Is it bad to vape every day?
Vaping and smoking are not good for your health, regardless of how rare or often you smoke. Some risks are still present even if you do not smoke every day, but frequently smoking or vaping raises your risk even further.
Can your lungs heal from vaping?
Studies suggest the lungs of patients who abstained from smoking begin to self-heal after some time. While the long-term effects of vaping aren’t yet understood, it’s possible that some of the lung damage will heal after you quit vaping.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.

Terez Malka, MD

Dr. Terez Malka is a board-certified pediatrician and emergency medicine physician.