Cigarette user Diagnosed with Pneumoconiosis

Henrietta Strickland
December 6, 2019

Doctors treating a patient with a rare lung disease usually caused by exposure to industrial metals say it may instead be the first case linked to vaping. More than 2,200 cases of lung damage have been reported nationwide as of November 20, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and there have been 47 confirmed deaths within 25 states and the District of Columbia. It's sometimes recognized in individuals who work with "onerous metals", comparable to cobalt or tungsten, in jobs like instrument sharpening, diamond sprucing or making dental prosthetics.

So what caused the woman's lung condition? The same metals were found in her vape pen juice when it was sent to a lab for testing.

An accompanying European Respiratory Society editorial on stopping smoking rejected the use of e-cigarettes as an aid, saying it was "based on well-meaning but incorrect or undocumented claims or assumptions". "This is the first known case of metal-induced toxicity in the lung that has followed from vaping and it has resulted in long-term, probably permanent, scarring of the patient's lungs", said study author Rupal Shah, MD from the University of California San Francisco, in a statement.

Cobalt lung is a doctor's worst nightmare. The condition is irreversible and can cause lifetime pulmonary problems.

'It has a distinctive and unusual appearance that is not observed in other diseases.

Pictures of the patient's lung scarring as seen under a microscope.

The unnamed patient was diagnosed with what is known as hard metal pneumoconiosis, or cobalt lung. Laborious-metal pneumoconiosis causes broken lung cells to engulf different cells and kind "large" cells that may be seen clearly beneath a microscope. And the inhalation of cobalt, in particular, has caused permanent scarring of the woman's lungs.

The scarring can't be cured - it can only be minimally improved if the person stops exposing themselves to hard metals, or takes steroids. In the dog trainer's case, she stopped smoking and vaping immediately upon diagnosis. Otherwise, the woman appeared healthy and said she had no other symptoms. But the condition itself persisted. But that doesn't mean it should be treated lightly.

"One of the biggest problems with e-cigarettes is that many people have switched to e-cigarettes believing it will help them quit tobacco products, which it doesn't", says Albert A Rizzo, M.D., American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer. The researchers concluded that the metals were released from the heating coils inside the device.

He continued: "The finding that e-cigarettes deliver heavy and hard metals to users is not a new one". Vaping marijuana increases this risk of toxic metals' leaching since the vape pens must be heated to higher temperatures to aerosolize THC compared to what's needed to aerosolize nicotine.

E-cigs may be presented as a "lesser of two evils" alternative to cigarettes. But vaping isn't harmless, and, as this case study shows, the consequences can be devastating. "Although vaping is much safer than smoking cigarettes, people who do vape should try to quit that too in the long term - but not at the expense of going back to smoking".

Last month cardiologists warned countries should consider banning vaping as they published new research suggesting it could damage the brain, heart, blood vessels and lungs.

"We believe it is likely not just that this will happen again, but that it has happened already but not been recognised".

The condition creates a distinctive pattern of damage to the lungs that results in breathing difficulties.

The hope is that other people won't have to do the same.

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