What Is Wet Lung? Teenager Suffers Respiratory Failure after Vaping for 3 Weeks

A teenager was hospitalized with a condition known as “wet-lung” after vaping for three weeks, in a case which calls into question whether the habit is as healthy as widely thought. 

The unnamed 18-year-old developed hypersensitivity pneumonitis, also known as “wet lung,” after smoking e-cigarettes, according to a study in the journal the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The teenager, who is from rural Pennsylvania according to CNN, began suffering from a cough, stabbing pains in the chest and had trouble breathing after smoking for three weeks. 

Believing her condition may be caused by a chest infection, doctors at University Pittsburgh Medical Center prescribed her with antibiotics. But her condition worsened. 

She was later hospitalized after developing respiratory failure and hypoxia, where not enough oxygen reaches tissue in the body. Doctors were forced to hook her up to a respirator and used tubes to drain fluid from her chest for five days.

Doctors believe this is the first reported case of wet lung in a teenager caused by e-cigarette use.

Wet lung occurs when matter breathed into the lungs triggers an immune response called hypersensitivity. This results in the lung tissue becoming inflamed, known as pneumonitis.

In acute wet lung, symptoms can include coughing, shortness of breath, as well as a fever and joint pain which can come on suddenly. The chronic form can take many years to develop, prompting symptoms like a cough and breathlessness caused by scarring of the lungs.  

Those diagnosed with wet lung must avoid the trigger, and can be prescribed steroids to treat the symptoms. The teenager was dosed with methylprednisolone, used to treat severe allergic reactions.

The authors noted e-cigarettes are gaining popularity as an alternative to conventional cigarettes among teenagers, but the health risks remain unclear. Doctors should therefore speak to their adolescent patients about the potential damage caused by the habit, they said.

In 2016, a report by the Surgeon General showed a 900 percent spike in high school students using e-cigarettes between 2011 and 2015.

Dr. Casey Sommerfeld, the patient's pediatrician and lead author of the study, told CNN: "there are a few case reports involving adults that developed respiratory distress following electronic cigarette use."

Ilona Jaspers, a professor in pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, told CNN experts do not know the long-term health effects of exposure to e-cigarettes, and whether the potential health effects are more pronounced in teenagers.

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