Side Effects of Vaping and E-Cigs: Are they serious?

The next time someone asks you about the side effects of vaping, what will you tell them?

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Vaping side effects have been discussed by vapers for a long time. A quick search of the topic on ECF found 207 threads stretching back to March of 2008 — meaning almost to the beginning of organized vape discussion — and 374 mentions overall.

The topic has been beaten to death, frankly, and just about every forum discussion, article, or piece of advice on vendor websites goes over the same potential side effects. Here’s a spoiler alert: most common vaping side effects are caused by either nicotine or dehydration. Other so-called side effects have nothing to do with vaping, but are symptoms of nicotine withdrawal or quitting smoking.

We’re going to run through those side effects of vaping too, but we’ve also dug up some additional side effects that you might find interesting.

What we’re not going to cover are things that aren’t proven or don’t qualify as side effects — like unproven risks and dangers of vaping, or battery explosions. These side effects are things we know exist, or at least vapers talk about them a lot.

Dehydration side effects

Dehydration

You need water to function. Without it, you can suffer a variety of awful problems, ranging from cramps to heat stroke to seizures and even kidney failure. But before you get to those extremes, you’ll have some lesser dehydration symptoms.

The lesser symptoms are what vapers typically encounter. It happens because the base of the e-liquid we vape is made from propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG) — or a combination of the two. PG and VG are hygroscopic. That means that they absorb water.

When you inhale vapor, it doesn’t make your mouth, throat, and esophagus moist. Rather, it takes the moisture from your mucus membranes and sends it back out in that majestic cloud you exhaled. Put simply, vaping dries you out. And a dried out vaper can have some issues.

  • Dry skin – sometimes with a rash or acne
  • Dry mouth
  • Dry eyes
  • Scratchy or sore throat
  • Coughing
  • Headache
  • Nosebleed

I’ve personally met many vapers who had some combination of those symptoms, and they all offered the same remedy: drink more water. And they’re right. Taking fluids into your body is the only way to counteract the moisture leaving your body. So drink a lot of water, tea, soda, juice, or anything you like.

Not beer or coffee though! It’s true that the moisture of alcoholic beverages hydrates you, but the alcohol actually inhibits your body’s ability to retain water, so essentially you won’t make up for the fluid you lose by vaping. Caffeine has a different but related effect. It can make you urinate more often, which also can contribute to dehydration. So if you’re heading to the coffee shop or local bar, have a glass of water on the side.

Vaper’s Tongue

vapers-tongue

Probably related to dehydration is this well-known condition. Vaper’s Tongue is usually described like this: “All my liquids taste the same!”

Most likely, Vaper’s Tongue is just a matter of too much vaping with too little fluid intake. The mouth and tongue get dry, and the taste buds are dulled.

PG, VG, and flavoring sensitivities and allergies

allergy

A regular topic of discussion among vapers is a supposed allergy to PG. Although a true allergic reaction to PG is possible, vapers more commonly experience the results of a mild sensitivity to PG. The symptoms are often similar to those of dehydration — and, in fact, it’s hard to separate the two.

If you suspect an actual allergy, a dermatologist can test for it and offer advice (like stop vaping PG). It’s really a fascinating topic all its own, and there are lots of cases of sensitivity or allergy to PG that have nothing to do with vaping, since our favorite vaping flavor carrier is also used in just about every food, medicine and cosmetic in the world. In fact, most adults with a true PG allergy would probably have been aware of it well before trying e-cigarettes, simply because PG is so ubiquitous.

Allergies to flavorings can be a far more serious -- and possibly even deadly -- issue.

Far less common are sensitivities to VG. True glycerin allergic reactions are extremely rare, and as with PG, it’s difficult to imagine someone not having discovered this before vaping. Glycerin is used in a variety of products, including soap.

However, some people — and I’m one of them — report that high-VG e-liquids cause congestion, difficulty breathing, or a thick phlegmy throat. In my case, it’s just the phlegmy throat, but I also only get the side effect if I’m vaping e-juice with more than 80 percent VG. So the solution is simple: I vape 50/50 liquids. If you have a sensitivity to either PG or VG, you can probably avoid the annoying effects by playing with the mix of the juice you vape.

Allergies to flavorings can be a far more serious — and possibly even deadly — issue. Some e-liquid uses flavoring products that have traces of food like peanuts that can cause life-threatening reactions for those with allergies to them. If you have any doubt about a certain e-liquid, you should ask the manufacturer if the flavorings contain traces of the actual problem substance. If you can’t get a definite answer, move on to something else.

Nicotine side effects

nicotine side effects

Most vapers at one time or another experience the effects of vaping too much nicotine. Because we self-titrate — meaning we vape nicotine until we have the effect we want and then stop — it can be easy to misjudge, especially if you’re trying an e-liquid in a stronger concentration than you’re used to, or using an atomizer that delivers more vapor than you’re used to.

We’re not really concerned here with the effects of a nicotine overdose, since that is easily avoided by not drinking nicotine in high concentrations. An adult would have to absorb 500 mg or more of nicotine to die, according to Prof. Bernd Mayer. But you weren’t planning on doing that anyway, right?

The typical effects of vaping too much nicotine are probably familiar to you already:

  • Dizzy or lightheaded
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Cold sweats
  • Insomnia
  • Racing heart
  • Anxious or jittery
  • Ringing ears

If you start to feel any of those things, stop vaping for a while. They’ll go away. If you constantly suffer those side effects, either vape less or lower your nicotine level.

If you want to explore more interesting facts about nicotine, Vaping360 has lots of articles about it, including my summary of what we know about everyone’s favorite mild stimulant.

Avoiding weight gain

weight-gain

One side effect of nicotine that a lot of vapers like is that it may help with weight loss or weight maintenance. It’s an appetite suppressant, and it’s been a difficult fact of life for many smokers that quitting cigarettes meant weight gain. Some smokers have even kept smoking because of concern over gaining weight.

But according to researcher Linda Bauld from Stirling University in the U.K., vaping may help change that. “People can change their nicotine content, so to quit smoking they might start off on a higher strength e-liquid and then they can taper down really quite gradually in a much more sophisticated way than they can with NRT, which is probably good for weight maintenance and for weight loss,” she told The Guardian.

Other positive side effects

positive-side-effects

Most people vape to avoid smoking. Some others never smoked but like nicotine. Yet others vape without nicotine because they enjoy the practice of vaping. When vapers ask about side effects, they’re usually looking for things to avoid or watch out for.

But there are side effects of vaping that are good side effects too. Have you thought about that before?

  • Saving money
  • Meeting new friends
  • Helping others
  • Learning things
  • Living longer

Since the actual medical side effects of vaping are mostly minor and easily avoidable, maybe we should concentrate more on these side effects. After all, they’re the reasons you keep vaping. And they’re the things you probably think about first when you think about how vaping has affected you.

So the next time someone asks you what the side effects of vaping are, tell them what really matters. The biggest side effects of vaping are all good!

Jim McDonald

I spend most of my time studying the regulatory, legislative and scientific challenges to vaping, advocating for our right to exist, and talking with others who do the same. Consider me a source for information, and feel free to agree or disagree with anything I say. I love good coffee and sweet Michigan cherries. My childhood hero was Gordie Howe.

  • Nicola Bothwell

    Ever since I’ve been vaping my throat feels sore on one side. i put my finger down my throat and right down the back of my tongue are a lot of lumps.i’m really worried about it,.

    • Jim McDonald

      You should see a doctor. It probably isn’t serious, and it probably has nothing to do with vaping, but any time you have lumps or a sore throat, it ought to be checked out.