A man using an electronic cigarette exhales in Mayfield Heights, Ohio, Friday, Oct. 4, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Tony Dejak

Teen developed ‘popcorn lung’ due to vaping: Ontario doctors

Boy went from being in perfect health to being on life support after just five months

A newly published article says an Ontario teenager’s brush with death due to a lung disease highlights exactly how little the medical community knows about the effects of vaping.

The article, published Thursday in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, was written by six doctors who treated the 17-year-old boy during a 47-day hospital stay.

They say the boy went from being in perfect health to being on life support after just five months of regularly using e-cigarettes.

The article outlines his hospitalization in early 2019, during which he spent time on life support and narrowly averted a double-lung transplant.

The doctors say his respiratory condition differed from the kinds typically seen in the growing number of confirmed vaping-related cases documented in the United States.

They say the teen’s condition resembled the sort of damage usually seen in factory workers forced to breathe in toxic chemicals often seen in products such as microwave popcorn, which are safe to ingest but not to inhale.

The doctors say the boy’s case offers further proof that vaping-related illnesses can take different forms, calling for more research to better understand a trend that’s already sounding alarm bells around the world.

“We know that vaping is often seen in a younger population,” said Dr. Simon Landman, a physician at the London Health Sciences Centre who was involved in the teen’s care. “We don’t want to see anybody sick, but it’s quite eye-opening when it’s very young people who have been previously healthy.”

READ MORE: B.C. to restrict nicotine content, bring in 20% tax on vaping products

Landman said the teen first started receiving medical attention when he arrived at his hometown hospital with a serious, persistent cough.

Over time, doctors learned the boy had been regularly vaping for the previous five months, often adding THC — an active ingredient in some cannabis products — to the fluid contained in most vaping devices.

Numerous medical professionals have warned that the fluid, which is often flavoured, contains chemicals whose properties are little understood once inhaled.

Landman said physicians eliminated a variety of potential causes for the teen’s illness, including infections and inflammatory conditions, before speculating his decline was likely tied to his vaping activity.

Landman said the teen’s respiratory condition did not improve once in hospital, leading him to be transferred to the London Health Sciences Centre. He continued to deteriorate over time, eventually being placed on a ventilator and ultimately a machine described as the most serious form of life support available to respiratory patients.

The teen was transferred to a lung transplant centre in Toronto, where Dr. Tereza Martinu said she and other colleagues took over his care.

Martinu said the boy’s condition differed from other pulmonary illnesses documented in the scant medical literature around vaping.

“The relatively classic presentation has been that of acute lung injury or something that looks a little bit more like pneumonia with whitening of the whole lung,” she said. “We did not see that in this patient at all.”

Martinu said the teen’s primary issue was inflammation throughout the small tubes that run throughout the lungs.

Previously documented cases of vaping-related illnesses, she said, typically involved damage to the sponge-like lung tissue known as alveoli. In this case, however, Martinu said the teen’s alveoli was relatively unaffected.

She said the boy also differed from past cases by having relatively high levels of oxygen in his body. The inflammation in his small airways, she said, left him unable to clear carbon dioxide from his bloodstream.

His condition resembled what medical professionals describe as “popcorn lung” due to its prevalence among factory workers producing microwave popcorn.

Their conditions are believed to be caused by regular inhalation of diacetyl, a butter-flavoured chemical deemed safe to ingest but not to breathe.

Diacetyl, researchers said, is present in several flavouring agents used in vaping devices.

READ MORE: New case of vaping-related illness in Quebec brings national total to 8

Martinu said the teen was facing the prospect of a double-lung transplant, which usually only allows recipients to survive for an average of five to six years after surgery. Fortunately, she said, he responded to intensive steroid treatment that helped reduce the inflammation, and was eventually discharged back to his home hospital. The teen’s hometown was not disclosed.

Landman said the teen has continued to recover, but has not regained full breathing function even months after he was allowed to return home. He said the long-term effects of vaping are one of the many areas in need of greater research.

Earlier this year Canada’s chief medical officers of health issued a statement warning that vaping among youth had spiked alarmingly, and Canadian provinces including British Columbia and Prince Edward Island are exploring legislation to limit youth access to e-cigarettes.

American officials have begun recording fatalities and illnesses tied to vaping, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 42 deaths and 2,172 injuries as of this week.

But a move to ban flavoured e-cigarettes in that country has prompted strong pushback from lobbyists who insist fears about vaping are overblown.

Landman disagrees, saying the Ontario teen’s story offers a powerful cautionary tale.

“Avoid it if you can, he said. “We’re still trying to find the full long-term consequences, but it doesn’t appear to be safe at this time.”

Michelle McQuigge, The Canadian Press


Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Federal minister to speak in Vernon

Greater Vernon Chamber welcomes middle class prosperity minister to talk money

Vernon PAC takes stand against dating violence

KSS to host presentation to equip parents with tools to spot unhealthy, violent relationships

VIDEO: Vernon man says stranger breaks in while family slept

Resident shares doorbell cam footage in hopes to ID suspect who raided his home and fridge

Two-car collision in busy Vernon intersection

Firefighters, RCMP and ambulance are on scene

VIDEO: Protesters set up beside Vernon highway

North Okanagan-Shuswap MP responds to countrywide blockades

UPDATE: Protesters say they will maintain blockade near Chase “as long as it takes”

Signs at protest site say in solidarity with Wet’suwet’en

Petition seeks to remove local police department from Lindsay Buziak murder case

American woman starts online petition in hopes of helping Buziak family

Deaths on popular Shuswap trail ruled accidental

B.C. Coroners Service reports on fatal falls in May and July 2019

Study says flu vaccine protected most people during unusual influenza season

Test-negative method was pioneered by the BC Centre for Disease Control in 2004

Saskatchewan and B.C. reach championship round at Scotties

British Columbia’s Corryn Brown locked up the last berth in Pool B

‘Chain reaction pile up’ closes southbound traffic on Coquihalla Highway

Black Press Media has reached out to RCMP, paramedics for details

B.C. lawyer, professor look to piloting a mental-health court

In November, Nova Scotia’s mental-health court program marked 10 years of existence

EDITORIAL: Thoughtless posts to Facebook cause real harm and stress

At the risk of resembling a broken record, it needs to be… Continue reading

COLUMN: Not an expert on First Nations government structures? Then maybe you should calm down

Consider your knowledge about First Nations governance structures before getting really, really mad

Most Read