Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) is a progressive disease the affects the respiratory system. There are approximately 30 million people living with COPD in the United States, many of whom have early stage COPD and haven’t been diagnosed yet.

The primary cause of COPD is cigarette smoking. There is a clear link between COPD and tobacco smoke, with over 90% of COPD patients being current or former smokers. With the clear link between tobacco cigarettes and the disease, many vapers are wondering: do e-cigs cause COPD?

Can vaping cause COPD?

There still hasn’t been enough research on vaping to determine with certainty whether or not it contributes to this lung disease.

There was a small study conducted in 2016 which determined that vaping e-juice that contains nicotine triggered the effects associated with COPD. The effects included lung inflammation as well as destruction of the lung tissue. The study wasn’t conducted on humans but rather used cultured human lung cells and mice. At the end of the study, both were found to be dependent on nicotine.

Of course, there was also a 2015 study which showed that vapor products are 96% less harmful than traditional cigarettes. So which is it? It seems like there are contradictory studies about the vape industry. One day we’ll get a story about a study showing that vaping is the safest way to quit smoking, then the next we’ll hear about how vaping causes popcorn lung (it doesn’t).

Unfortunately we just need more research before we can conclusively determine whether COPD can be caused by the vapor that users inhale or by secondhand vapor. Even the author of the 2015 study showing that vaping is 96% safer than smoking stated that we need to conduct more research to help clarify whether or not vaping is safer and if switching to vapor products provides any health benefits to smokers.

To sum it up: we don’t know yet. We’ll keep our eye out for any new studies that can shed light on this one way or the other. We’ll keep this post updated as the research comes in.

What are the risk factors for COPD?

Smoking cigarettes is by far the leading cause of COPD. Inhaling the harsh, harmful smoke exposes you to some serious health risks. This also applies to other tobacco products that you can smoke such as cigars and pipes.

Did you know that tobacco smoke isn’t the only risk factor for COPD? Long-term exposure to the following pollutants and hazardous lung irritants can also increase your risk of developing COPD:

  • inhaling chemical fumes
  • exposure to secondhand smoke
  • fuels
  • dust
  • air pollution

If you have certain genetic conditions like alpha-1 antitrypsin deficiency (AATD), then your risk of developing COPD is elevated even if you never touch a single cigarette.

Smoking cessation is the best way to prevent COPD and other diseases of the lung that you may contract from tobacco smoke. Even if you don’t get COPD, lung cancer and emphysema are no joke. The cancer-causing chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke are some of the most devastating things that you can consume and have a severe impact on your long-term health. Switching to vaping or any other harm reduction method could help you kick the habit for good.

What are the signs and symptoms of COPD?

Although COPD is a serious chronic illness, it starts off rather mildly. The early signs and symptoms of COPD are:

  • shortness of breath
  • persistent cough
  • tightness in the chest

As time goes on, the following COPD symptoms may become apparent:

  • wheezing
  • coughing up mucus
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath on a frequent basis

The breathing problems can eventually cause difficulties with daily life. People who have been diagnosed with COPD frequently have problems walking up stairs, walking, or doing everyday chores around the house. As the disease progresses, the breathing problems (both inhaling and exhaling) can become disabling.

How is COPD treated?

It’s important to see your doctor if you’re experiencing any of the above symptoms. While you may not necessarily have COPD, it’s important to get it checked out.

Your primary care doctor will ask you questions and conduct a physical exam first. Then they will conduct a series of tests to determine if your symptoms are being caused by COPD or by something else entirely. There are other harmful lung diseases that can cause these symptoms, after all.

The doctor will conduct a test known as a spirometry or a pulmonary function test to determine how well your lungs are functioning. This test will detect COPD in its earliest stages. This painless, noninvasive test will require you to blow air into a tube connected to the spirometer. This will measure how much air you exhale and how fast you do so.

The doctor may then have you inhale medicine to open up your airway and conduct the test again. This allows the doctor to compare your results before and after taking the medication.

The doctor may also conduct an arterial blood gas test to determine how much carbon dioxide and oxygen you have circulating in your blood. The results from this test indicate the severity of the disease and can help your doctor determine an appropriate treatment.

Imaging tests such as CT scans and X-Rays may also be conducted to detect signs of COPD in your chest.

All of these tests will determine the severity of your COPD, if you even have it to begin with. The tests can also eliminate COPD as a possibility for your symptoms, indicating that a different lung disease or other problem may be causing them.

There is currently no cure for COPD, but with treatment you can manage the effects and symptoms.