Health Q&A with Dr. Michael Jacobson, D.O.: Secondhand vaping: Is it dangerous?
Q: I am wondering whether the secondhand vapor from vaping* can cause breathing difficulty. Twice this week I have had allergic episodes. In the first one, I felt as if my airway was constricted. In the second, I could breathe okay but it seemed that I wasn’t getting enough oxygen and my fingers started tingling. In both cases, a man working in the same room was vaping, off and on, and my symptoms cleared after I left the room. I am allergic to cigarette smoke, but it (vaping) causes a sore throat, coughing and headache. I have never had these breathing issues before. I am 51 years old, moderately active, and overweight but not obese. I appreciate any help or advice you can offer.
A: As you know, “vaping” is fairly new, so there is limited research on its effects, especially when it comes to secondhand “smoke” (it’s not really smoke because there’s no combustion with vaping—only gases vaporized from a heated liquid). However, I did come across a small, European study that found that vaping increased the concentration of several potential pollutants, which could in turn cause irritation of the airways. These included nicotine, formaldehyde, aluminum, hydrocarbons and perhaps others.
With that in mind, I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to consider that you may be reacting to something in the vapor. We may not know from objective research what that is for a while. However, in the meantime, breathing pure air seems to be the best option for all of us!
*Editor’s note: According to CHM Guideline B, CHM members must abstain from tobacco and any smoking device or substitutionary smoking device (including but not limited to cigarettes, cigars, pipes, herbal cigarettes, e-cigarettes, vape pens, etc.)
If you have a health question for Dr. Jacobson, CHM Medical Consultant, please email it. This information is not intended to replace the advice of your physician.