A Pennsylvania waitress who decided to try smoking e-cigarettes had only been vaping three weeks when she began feeling unwell, CNN reported.
Trouble breathing, a persistent cough, chest pain — they're symptoms most often associated with smoking traditional tobacco cigarettes, not e-cigs. But soon the 18-year-old was in the hospital with tubes snaking from her chest and a breathing machine forcing air into her lungs.
Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center say it's the first report of its kind, according to a case study published in the journal Pediatrics.
In the study, the doctors say the teen reported the troubling symptoms after beginning to vape, then went into respiratory failure.
"She was unable to get enough oxygen into her blood from her lungs and required a mechanical ventilator to breathe for her until her lungs recovered," one of the study's authors, Dr. Daniel Weiner, told CNN. The doctors had to place tubes in her chest to drain the fluid that had built up in her lungs.
The condition is caused when a person has an allergy to a dust or some other type of tiny particle, according to the American Lung Association. Dr. Casey Sommerfeld, the patient's doctor and a co-author of the study, told CNN chemicals in the e-cigarette vapor caused a reaction that led fluid to build up in the teens lungs.
Doctors began treating her with intravenous methylprednisolone, a medicine used to treat severe allergic reactions, after which she recovered "rapidly," according to the study.
"This is the first reported case of hypersensitivity pneumonitis and acute respiratory distress syndrome as a risk of e-cigarette use in an adolescent, and it should prompt pediatricians to discuss the potential harms of vaping with their patients," the authors wrote.
Millions of people use e-cigarettes or vapes every day, including as many as 2 million middle and high school students, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Vaping is widely believed to be at least somewhat safer than traditional tobacco cigarettes, though there are still many unknowns. Studies have found traces of toxic metal in e-vapor and have connected a chemical found in some e-cig vapors to a fatal disease called "popcorn lung."
Sommerfield expects more cases like those of his patient will surface as vaping continues to be studied.
"It is difficult to speculate on how frequently this could happen; however, there are a few case reports involving adults that developed respiratory distress following electronic cigarette use," Sommerfeld told CNN. "As electronic cigarette use increases, we will be seeing more case reports and side effects."