E-cig smoker diagnosed with rare lung scarring commonly found in metal workers

Mirror Online 3 days ago

An e-cigarette smoker has been diagnosed with a rare form of lung scarring similar to that found in metal workers, a new study has revealed.

A patient was found to have a rare lung disease that was likely caused by the fumes from the heating coils used in vaping devices.

The unusual disease - called hard-metal pneumoconiosis - creates a distinctive pattern of damage to the lungs that results in breathing difficulties.

It is typically diagnosed in people who work with "hard metals" like cobalt or tungsten, in jobs like tool sharpening, diamond polishing or making dental prosthetics.

According to researchers from the University of California, San Francisco (UCAL), the patient is the first known case that has been linked directly to vaping.

A patients damaged lung under the microscope, left, and healthy tissue right

The research was published today in the European Respiratory Journal over fears the public are ill informed about the new wave of lung diseases caused by vaping devices.

The article's co-author Jorgen Vestbo, co-author of the research article, and professor of respiratory medicine at the University of Manchester, said: "The medical profession as well as the public should be concerned about a new wave of lung diseases caused by a product which is heavily promoted by the tobacco industry.

“There are a number of new studies showing that vaping affects the lungs and, in addition, we are now beginning to see patients diagnosed with acute vaping-related lung disease.

The discovery was made when medics found the patient had no known exposure to hard metal and instead looked to e-cigarettes. 

Professor Kirk Jones, Clinical Professor of Pathology at the university, added: "Hard-metal pneumoconiosis is diagnosed by looking at a sample of patient's lung tissue under the microscope.

Researchers say the risks of smoking tobacco are far better understood than that of vapes

"It has a distinctive and unusual appearance that is not observed in other diseases. When we diagnose it, we are looking for occupational exposure to metal dust or vapour, usually cobalt, as a cause.

Hard-metal pneumoconiosis causes damaged lung cells to engulf other cells and form 'giant' cells that can be seen clearly under a microscope.

It can result in permanent scarring in patients' lungs with symptoms such as breathing difficulties and chronic coughing.

This scarring cannot be cured, although some patients may have mild improvement if the exposure to hard-metal dust stops and they are treated with steroids.

When researchers tested the patient's e-cigarette they found cobalt in the vapour it released, along with other toxic metals - nickel, aluminium, manganese, lead and chromium.

Professor Jones added: "People who vape are often looking for a safer alternative to smoking.

"But as lung physicians, it is our job to be concerned about the substances that are inhaled into the lung, particularly those substances that can bypass our usual defence mechanisms such as these ultra-fine mists.

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

Previous studies have also uncovered these metals in vapour from other vapes, with researchers believing that the metals are coming from heating coils found in vaping devices rather than any kind of refill.

One concern with this type of disease is that damage will not become apparent to people using e-cigarettes until the scarring has become irreversible as it did with this patient.

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