Although some people may consider vaping a better alternative to smoking, it can still lead to lung damage. Scientists are still investigating the effects of vaping and whether lung damage may heal.

Vaping devices, also known as electronic cigarettes, e-cigarettes, or vapes, heat liquid into an aerosol for inhalation into the lungs.

According to a 2018 study, over 7,700 e-liquid flavors were available that year from more than 1,200 vendors in the United States.

When the chemicals in e-liquids aerosolize, or convert into a fine spray, they can affect cells, altering cell growth and causing inflammation, among other changes.

This article examines what lung damage vaping can cause, whether secondhand vaping is safer, when to contact a doctor, and frequently asked questions about vaping.

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Popcorn lung, also known as obliterative bronchiolitis, is a form of lung disease. It occurs when the smallest airways of the lungs, called bronchioles, become scarred, and air cannot pass through. It is an irreversible condition.

According to the American Lung Association (ALA), chemicals such as acetaldehyde, formaldehyde, and diacetyl can contribute to the development of popcorn lung.

A 2021 study suggests that electronic cigarettes also produce 2,4-butanedione and 2,3-pentanedione as byproducts when they heat the sugars and flavor additives present. These can also contribute to the development of popcorn lung.

According to the ALA, vape liquid can contain nicotine, propylene glycol, and flavoring, among other chemicals.

The Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC) suggest lipoid pneumonia can occur when the aerosolized oils in e-cigarettes enter the lungs and create an inflammatory response.

In a healthy lung, the ciliary apparatus, mucus layer, cough reflex, and lipid layer of the alveoli all work together to clean the airways.

However, a 2020 case study suggests that platelet-activating factor receptor (PAFR) levels in the cells lining the respiratory airways increase in people who vape.

Pneumococcal bacteria readily bind to PAFR receptors, meaning that vaping may increase a person’s susceptibility to pneumonia.

Pneumothorax occurs when air collects in the pleural space outside the lung, causing a partial or complete lung collapse.

A 2021 article highlights smoking as a known risk factor for pneumothorax. However, it notes a lack of research on the long-term health effects of vaping, including whether there is an established link to pneumothorax.

Smoking cigarettes is a well-known risk factor for lung cancer. However, since vaping is still relatively new, research is ongoing to determine its connection to lung cancer.

Nonetheless, vape fluid contains chemicals associated with an increased risk of lung cancer, including formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, and acrolein.

The ALA highlights the risk of secondhand vaping.

The secondhand vapor a vape user exhales still contains a volatile mix of chemicals. This might include:

  • nicotine
  • diacetyl
  • benzene
  • heavy metals such as nickel, tin, or lead
  • ultrafine particles

Much remains to learn about the impact of vaping on the body. Understanding whether the lungs can heal from any damage vaping might cause may depend on the extent and type of damage.

The lungs can regenerate some damaged tissue. However, when damage is too extensive, it may be permanent.

How long does it take the lungs to heal from vaping?

Further research will determine how long the lungs take to heal from vaping. However, the American Cancer Society suggests the body begins to repair damage almost immediately when a person stops smoking cigarettes.

Lung function starts to improve 2 weeks to 3 months after quitting. From 1–12 months after quitting, symptoms such as coughing and breathing problems should improve as lung structures heal.

If people wish to quit vaping, they can speak with a healthcare professional.

Learn more about 10 steps to quitting vaping.

Early treatment is critical for respiratory diseases, including:

The ALA recommends people contact a doctor as soon as possible if they experience the following symptoms:

Below are answers to some commonly asked questions about vaping and lung disease.

The long-term effects of vaping on the lungs are still unknown. However, a 2020 review suggests vaping may cause similar lung damage to smoking by a different mechanism.

The damage smoking causes relates to tar, nicotine, and more than 7,000 chemicals. In vape products, chemicals, nicotine, and oils may cause lung damage.

Read more about the comparisons between smoking and vaping.

Many individuals believe vaping is a step toward reducing or quitting smoking. However, the ALA points out that the FDA does not recognize any e-cigarette as an aid to safely and effectively quit cigarettes.

A 2018 review highlights the variation in the nicotine concentration of e-cigarettes. Nicotine replacement therapies such as patches or gum have smaller nicotine concentrations, generally 7–14 milligrams (mg) per 24-hour patch or 2–4 mg per piece of gum.

Many of these nicotine replacement therapies are FDA-approved, so a person may find them a more suitable option than vaping.

Nicotine can affect human brain development. Since this takes place until around age 25, vaping nicotine products may harm developing children and adolescents.

Young brains build synapses between brain cells faster than the brains of older adults. Nicotine changes how synapses form, potentially affecting mood, impulse control, and attention.

According to a 2022 article, chronic vaping also impairs the body’s blood vessel function, elevating the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Exposure to the liquid in a vape device through drinking or contact with the skin or eyes can cause adverse health effects such as:

Vapes are popular devices that some people consider a healthier alternative to smoking. Vapes heat a liquid and aerosolize it for the user to inhale. The liquid is usually flavored with some additives and contains nicotine.

Many of the chemicals in the liquid created during the aerosolization are toxic to the lungs. They can coat the lining of the airway passages, potentially leading to serious disease or a collapsed lung.

More research is required into the long-term effects of vaping on the body.