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Are teens vaping during pandemic? Pediatric critical care physician says 4 patients in ICU

Coronavirus, lung injuries from vaping have similar symptoms but different treatments

ORLANDO, Fla. – It may not be as getting as much attention with a global pandemic happening but doctors warn vaping injuries could put patients at a greater risk for the novel coronavirus.

Dr. Jenna Wheeler is a Pediatric Critical Care physician at Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children.

“A lot of symptoms do overlap,” Wheeler said of coronavirus and lung injuries associated with vaping.

Wheeler said over the last month she has seen patients with severe lung injuries who tested negative for COVID-19.

“We’ve had four cases that I know of that we’ve cared for in our ICU and the teenagers are presenting very similar to coronavirus,” Wheeler said.

Patients with symptoms like shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever and gastrointestinal problems have been treated in the hospital like they do have Coronavirus, until they test negative.

However, Wheeler said the one key difference is something she has seen before: vaping.

"It makes it difficult especially with something like vaping, where people may not want to be forthcoming with the fact that they did vape," Dr. Wheeler said.

While she said the symptoms of vaping related lung injuries and Coronavirus were similar, they were treated differently.

“When you’re trying to see, you know, is this patient sick enough to justify trying something that may be a little bit more experimental, versus if this is a vaping related injury we do have a little bit more information on that since we’ve been following that longer,” Wheeler said.

With many parents juggling working from home while their teenagers are participating in distance learning, Dr. Wheeler said it may be time for a check-in.

"I think just even a check-in with your kids, not even just about vaping, but just kind of a check in as a family of how are we all coping with this,” Dr. Wheeler said.

It’s important, Wheeler said, because while teens may turn to vaping as a coping strategy, lung injuries could put them at a greater risk for COVID-19.

“Those are things that we’re going to see with time whether there is an increased risk, but we always are concerned that anything that can inflame the lungs or decrease the lungs immune response could put you more at risk for a serious infection,” Wheeler said.

All of the teenage patients Wheeler saw in the ICU were recovering but she said it is a lengthy recovery because lungs take time to heal.


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