Chronic use of e-cigarettes, commonly known as vaping, can result in progressive small airway obstruction and asthma-like symptoms such as shortness of breath and chest pains, according to researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). In the first study to microscopically evaluate the pulmonary tissue of e-cigarette users for chronic disease, the team found in a small sample of patients fibrosis and damage in the small airways, similar to the chemical inhalation damage to the lungs typically seen in soldiers returning from overseas conflicts who had inhaled mustard or similar types of noxious gases.
In addition, three of the four patients had evidence of mild emphysema consistent with their former combustible cigarette smoking history, though researchers concluded this was distinct from the findings of constrictive bronchiolitis seen in the patient cohort.
Because the same type of lung damage was observed in all patients, as well as partial improvement in symptoms after e-cigarette usage was stopped, researchers concluded that vaping was the most likely cause after thorough evaluation and exclusion of other possible causes. "Our investigation shows that chronic pathological abnormalities can occur in vaping exposure," says senior author David Christiani, MD, a physician investigator at Mass General Research Institute. "Physicians need to be informed by scientific evidence when advising patients about the potential harm of long-term vaping, and this work adds to a growing body of toxicological evidence that nicotine vaping exposures can harm the lung."
The study was published in New England Journal of Medicine Evidence.