Mighty Blog

Are COVID-19 and vaping connected? A pediatric pulmonologist explains.

As of July 20, 2020, Minnesota COVID-19 cases have climbed to more than 46,000. For those who vape or smoke, the risks for complications if you get COVID-19 might be even greater. Vaping is especially prevalent among young people who might not realize the new dangers of this habit.

We talked with Dr. Anne Griffiths, a pediatric pulmonologist at Children’s Minnesota, about the possible connection between vaping and COVID-19 complications.

What is the link between COVID-19 and vaping?

Smoking or vaping nicotine already generally increases your risk of high blood sugar, harder-to-control diabetes, high blood pressure and heart rate, and can disrupt your body’s defense system against infections.

These complications are even more concerning in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic because people who vape may be at risk for more severe COVID-19 symptoms, particularly for those who vape nicotine.

Like COVID-19, there is a lot of unknowns about vaping and its effects on the body. However, researchers are learning a lot about its relationship with asthma, bronchitis, emphysema and the immune system. Scientists think the COVID-19 virus may enter the body using a special doorway into our cells called the ACE2 receptor and nicotine may worsen the interaction between COVID-19 and the ACE2 pathway.

Is vaping THC from marijuana associated with COVID-19?

This spring, the California Department of Public Health published an alert that people were becoming very sick from vaping THC-based marijuana products, similar to what was seen across the country last summer.

Symptoms from getting sick after vaping THC can look very similar to being ill with COVID-19, which can make it difficult for doctors to determine what is causing the patient to be so ill. This is concerning because the treatment can look different.

One of the worries health care workers have when trying to treat patients is figuring out which problem is causing the patient to be ill. This can cause a delay in receiving the appropriate therapy they need to get better. Before health care workers can treat patients, they need to rule out COVID-19 prior to tailoring patient care to vaping-related symptoms.

How can vaping flavored products affect your health?

There is a misconception held by many teens and adults that vaping is safe if there is no nicotine or THC in the product. In fact, doctors are particularly concerned that flavoring chemicals used in vaping products can get in the way of our lungs’ natural ability to fight off infection. This is particularly alarming with the prevalence of COVID-19 and the amount of young people vaping.

Dr. Griffiths said, “Just because something is safe to eat, does not mean it’s safe to inhale.”

How can parents talk to their kids about vaping and COVID-19?

Have the conversation.

Parents should have a conversation with their kids, and they should keep talking about vaping as kids’ interests change. Ask them what they know about vaping – remember, if they vape, they most likely think it’s safe. Many kids who vape do so to help cope with anxiety and depression. While finding something to help cope with their anxiety and depression is a positive choice, it’s important they choose a different form of support.

The importance of long-lasting effects.

It’s important for young people to understand that experts don’t know all the lasting effects of vaping. But what we do know is that vaping might further impact their health if they get COVID-19. Information about vaping and COVID-19 is changing so quickly and it’s not worth taking the chance of vaping during COVID-19 and regretting it later.

Talk with your child and their provider.

Many vaping products have reassuring messages behind them that claim they aren’t harmful and may even be beneficial, but that is not what research is saying. Your child’s provider is more than willing to be a trusted adult to talk with about the effects of vaping and to provide kids and young adults with credible information. Make the appointment and have the conversation with your child and their provider or a Children’s Minnesota pulmonologist.

Alexandra Rothstein