Lung injuries due to vaping share similar symptoms to this season's flu strain

Published: Dec. 4, 2019 at 4:17 PM CST
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Eastern Iowa is in the middle of a vaping epidemic, according to a doctor at Mercy Medical Center in Cedar Rapids.

Dr. Hassan Sajjad points to the noticeable increase in lung injuries due to vaping that started this year. At times, those illnesses can be hard to diagnose.

That's because the symptoms of vaping-related illnesses are similar to those of this year's flu strain.

"With vaping, we do see people may have shortness of breath, cough, sometimes they may have fevers and chills as well,” Sajjad said.

Sajjad works at the Pulmonology Clinic at Mercy in Cedar Rapids. He believes diagnosing an illness takes collaboration, meaning patients need to tell the truth.

"If you have a patient that doesn't tell us that they are vaping, and they have all the classical features, so we still keep looking for other explanations that causes that may explain this,” Sajjad said.

It's worrisome as peak flu season approaches. Doctors want to make sure patients are getting the right treatment.

"We treat influenza in a completely different manner, sometimes we use anti-viral medications,” Sajjad said. “Sometimes we use steroids for vaping-related illnesses."

This summer, the Iowa Department of Public Health starting tracking the number of severe lung disease cases associated with vaping. To date, 49 people have confirmed cases. 39 of those reported using vaping products containing THC, the part of marijuana that causes a high.

At Mercy, Dr. Sajjad has treated people with those illnesses. He said it's why respiratory exams are necessary for patients who come in with flu-like symptoms this time of year. He wants to make sure they get back to full health as soon as possible.

"Unfortunately, even here at Mercy, we have had lot of patients not only on the regular floors, but also the ICU, on high, high level of oxygen from vaping-related lung injuries,” Sajjad said.

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