Although vapes are not medical devices, side effects for the user may occur. These side effects are not a given though. Because of the many variables in devices and e-liquid on the market, as well as the differences in frequency and method someone vapes, the side effects are often situational instead of universal.
Medical studies and official surveys to reference for vaping side effects are sorely lacking, with most focusing on overall health and vaping. To compensate for that, and to expand the scope of a vape author’s first-hand experience, Google keywords and search traffic data plus vape forums health-related sub-forums were used as general indicators of common side effects associated with vaping in 2018.
Dry mouth from vaping
One of the most common side effects of vaping. Dry mouth is most associated with the base ingredients of e-liquid: PG and VG (propylene glycol and vegetable glycerin). Although higher percentages of PG are often reported to have a more drying effect on the mouth, it’s not uncommon for 100% VG vapers to still experience it. The reasons behind this seem counterintuitive. PG and VG are both humectants, which is why they’re used in consumable products to keep things moist; but they’re also hygroscopic, meaning they absorb water.
If you’re experiencing general dry mouth, you can use an oral hydration rinse like Biotene, which ironically has both PG and VG as ingredients, or you can simply drink more water. Those two remedies are usually the simplest way to get moisture back in your mouth. If you have a persistently parched mouth, consult with your oral health provider. Chronic dry mouth can be a symptom of dehydration and can cause serious oral health complications if left untreated.
Sore throat after vaping
A sore or scratchy throat may be connected to PG, flavorings, or even the coil used in the atomizer. Some coils used in vaping are nickel-based, and it’s not uncommon for users to discover they have an allergy to nickel. Also, several reports online can be found associating a sore throat with high nicotine, especially when used with high levels of propylene glycol (50% or more).
If you think these issues are related to the e-liquid, try a higher percentage of VG, a new flavor, or lower the nicotine concentration. If you’re certain it’s not the liquid or the nicotine, it may be the vaping wire type used in your vape coil. Check the specs of the device and see if it has a nickel coil, or a coil with nickel content such as nichrome (often listed as Ni80). If the specific coil metal isn’t available, replace it with a one that clearly states it uses Kanthal or stainless steel – stainless steel might also contain nickel but usually only up to 10%. If that doesn’t seem to clear up the sore throat, make an appointment with your physician.
Coughing and vaping
Problems with coughing while vaping frequently appear in complaints from beginner vapers, even when they’re ex-smokers or even current smokers. Generally speaking, coughing is a result of the wrong approach to vaping and inhaling. Like the result of high nicotine being used with a direct-lung inhale or trying to take a cigarette-type draw on a device with too much airflow.
If you are coughing when you take a hit, check the airflow of the device without activating it (if your device has an automatic draw, take out the cartridge or vape pod and draw on it while not attached to the battery). If it feels tight like a coffee straw, it’s meant for a cigarette type of draw called mouth-to-lung. If it feels like your sucking air through a milkshake straw, it’s a direct-lung device, which requires inhaling it directly to the lungs and immediately blowing it out. Direct lung devices are strongly recommended to use with nicotine at 6 mg/mL or lower.
Headaches and vaping
If you’ve recently quit smoking, it’s not uncommon for headaches to occur. Although you can still get nicotine from vapes, nicotine is not the only alkaloid found in tobacco. Alkaloids have a physiological effect on the user, and cessation from habitual usage can cause headaches. Nicotine is the major alkaloid in tobacco, accounting for about 95% of the alkaloid content, but there are other tobacco minor alkaloids in tobacco smoke not present e-liquid. These tobacco minor alkaloids work in concert with nicotine and are believed to increase potential dependency. If you’ve recently quit smoking and are vaping with nicotine, it’s possible that nicotine alone may not be enough to ward off the headaches in the beginning, and you may be withdrawing from other chemicals and alkaloids found in tobacco.
If you’re experiencing headaches and it’s not from quitting smoking, it’s possible that you’re dehydrated. Headaches are a common symptom of dehydration. If you’ve noticed persistent dry mouth in conjunction with your headaches, a remedy could simply be to drink more water. But if that doesn’t work, you should consult a medical professional.
Dizziness or headrush from vaping
Similar to the feeling of smoking for the first time, it’s not uncommon to experience lightheadedness and dizziness from vaping. Also similar to smoking, this typically will stop presenting itself the more you consume. This feeling is not from vaping in general though; it’s from vaping nicotine – particularly with high nicotine.
If you’re concerned about dizziness or the feeling of being lightheaded, the best course of action is to lower your nicotine or the amount you vape in short periods. If you’d prefer to not lower your consumption, it’s something that will likely go away as your body gets accustomed to nicotine.
Weight loss/gain from vaping
There’s no evidence that vaping will aid in weight loss, even if nicotine is used. This concern doesn’t appear much on vape forums, but it’s definitely searched for in Google – likely because the side effects of over-the-counter NRTs (like Nicorette and the patch) say weight gain is possible with increased appetite.
What’s interesting is that nicotine is considered by many to be an appetite suppressant, especially in the context of smoking, but there’s not much conclusive evidence that proves its efficacy at losing weight. That said, nicotine is a stimulant, and other similar stimulants (like caffeine) are associated with fat burning by increasing metabolic rate. But fat burning and weight loss are not the same thing.
That’s not to say it’s impossible for weight loss to occur from vaping, but it’s definitely not considered a side effect. If by chance someone does experience weight loss with vaping, a much simpler explanation could be that vaping is an oral fixation without calories. Many vapers find that vaping sweet flavors decreases their need to eat sweets. On the flipside, if you quit vaping, there’s a chance that the absence of the hand-to-mouth action may end up getting replaced with calories that could lead to weight gain.
Nausea from vaping
If you’re feeling nauseous from vaping, it could be due to flavors in your e-juice or from nicotine. Like side effects from over-the-counter nicotine replacement therapies like gums and patches, the feeling of an upset stomach has been noted as a common side effect.
If you’ve noticed that nauseous feelings are not a given even at a specific nicotine percentage, chances are you’re having some sort of reaction to the specific e-juice you’re using. If you’re having these feelings and you’re relatively new to vaping, try to cut back on your consumption and/or try and find a lower nicotine strength. Like the feelings of lightheadedness and dizziness from vaping nicotine that some people experience, gastro issues also are known to resolve itself with increased usage. If the feeling persists, it’s best to check with your doctor about your issues.
Tired and fatigued from vaping
Nicotine is a stimulant that paradoxically can increase mental alertness and have a sedative effect. For some users, it’s more of one than the other. It’s conceivable that if you’re tired or fatigued from vaping, it could be similar to a caffeine crash. If you find yourself getting sleepy, try lowering or increasing your nicotine strength, or even eliminating it all together. The point is, what you’re currently using is disagreeing with you. Change it up.
Chest pain from vaping
There could be various reasons for chest pain from vaping. Excessive heat, high nicotine, or maybe even the specific flavorings in a particular e-liquid could be the cause. Some users on vaping forums have stated that (fiery) cinnamon liquids containing the flavoring chemical cinnamaldehyde give them chest pain. Whatever the cause, chest pain is not an insignificant matter and could be a sign of a more serious health issue. If you’re experiencing chest pain and it appears to be a result of what you’re vaping, lower the heat, reduce your nicotine, or change your flavor. If that doesn’t clear it up, make an appointment with your doctor.
Vaping side effects in perspective
A lot of the perceived side effects from vaping are actually side effects from nicotine usage. And many of the above examples are shared with FDA-approved forms of nicotine replacement therapies. That said, a few these side effects are particular to vaping itself. The key to remember is that vapes are not health products. They are, however, a much safer alternative when vaping is compared to smoking. If you are one of the millions that use vaping as an alternative to smoking, the mild side effects from vaping should be viewed in comparisons to the absolute hazards of smoking cigarettes.