A 31-year-old West Virginia resident had only been vaping for three months when she developed a chronic cough. She was suddenly plagued by other symptoms as well: shortness of breath, weight loss and labored breathing, which are all symptoms of hypersensitivity pneumonia. When she sought medical care, she was admitted into the hospital and quickly transported to the intensive care unit due to failing lungs. Soon after being admitted, the woman went into respiratory failure. A ventilator was required to keep her breathing comfortably.
Doctors at the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center said the woman had started smoking e-cigarettes in an attempt to quit smoking regular cigarettes. Her favorite flavor was called Hawaiian Blast, made by MaddCatt, a Maryland-based manufacturer. She described the flavor as “tropical fruity mix with a touch of creaminess.”
She remained on a ventilator for several days, then was sent home with supplemental oxygen. The woman also quit using e-cigarettes, and within three months, tests showed normal pulmonary function.
“We don’t know if this is the tip of the iceberg,” John E. Parker, a pulmonary critical care physician who helped treat the woman, said. “Maybe it’s going to be toxic to lots of people or maybe there is going to be a host factor that leads to individual people getting these diseases.”
The e-cigarette liquids have been found to contain a variety of chemicals such as formaldehyde, which is a suspect that is linked to cancer, and diacetyl, the culprit behind bronchiolitis obliterans, a serious chronic lung disease.
Diacetyl is an ingredient that provides buttery, creamy flavoring. Bronchiolitis obliterans is also known as “popcorn lung” for the popcorn factory workers that developed the disease after heavy exposure to diacetyl.