Fads come and go. But when a new fad is touted as being a solution to a significant health issue, it may stick around. Such is the case with Vaping.
Initially thought to be much less harmful than smoking tobacco due to the absence of tars and containing much less nicotine than cigarettes, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) gave it a stamp of approval.
It wasn’t until there were many reports of lung problems, including pulmonary fibrosis (some requiring lung transplants in young people), asthma, that the shine started to dim where vaping was concerned.
As it turns out, vaping involves the vaporization of chemicals, sometimes including aromatics, by heating with a battery operated electric filament, such that so-called “free radicals” are produced, some of which when inhaled are extremely toxic to the lungs. Free radicals are chemical derivatives of combustion, which although mostly dissipated into the air, are first inhaled and get into the blood stream through the alveoli (air sacs) in the lungs. These free radicals include formaldehyde, heavy metals and particulates. Depending on what is vaped, there may be other products of combustion, including carbon monoxide, inhaled. It has yet to be determined if any of these free radicals cause toxicity to other parts of the body including the brain, kidneys, liver and heart.
Ingenuity being what it is, and considering the legalization of marijuana in many states, it wasn’t long before THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) was used for vaping. This also proved to be rather dicey, in that the concentration of THC was variable depending on how the vaping solution was formulated (most are concocted by the user!). Relatively strong concentrations of THC combined with the free radicals is extremely toxic for vapers. Who knows what other products, illicit or otherwise, are being formulation by amateur chemists and loaded into the reservoirs of common vaping devices!
So what on earth does this have to do with the eyes?? A lot actually! Remember, this is a blog about ocular health!! The big clouds of vapors you see exploding out of the mouths and noses of vapers, contain the same free radicals as the inhaled vaping solutions, and these clouds of vapor are capable of altering the surface of the eye, making them extremely dry and uncomfortable. Some reports indicate that the surface changes caused in this manner may be permanent. And this is just what is known at this point. Among the many things that are unknown is if the vapors are capable of damaging the surface of the cornea, the clear, window-like structure at the front of the eye. There is also the suggestion that the retina may display a toxic effect from vaping. The retina already suffers from the ill-effects of free radicals in such diseases as macular degeneration. Some investigators believe vaping may hasten the deterioration of the retina in such diseases as macular degeneration, retinal blood vessel obstruction and optic nerve deterioration. All can lead to vision loss.
The CDC has reported an apparently increased incidence of diabetic retinopathy in diabetics who vape. Although the studies to confirm this are incomplete, the CDC believes there is sufficient evidence to warrant concern. It is not a stretch to conclude that vaping might be dangerous since many of the chemicals inhaled or absorbed when vaping are identical to those encountered while smoking tobacco.
The CDC recently reported (almost a year ago) that some 530 people have been severely affected and seven have died in the US so far from vaping related complications.
So, despite the popularity of the fad, it is probably wise to avoid it and not let the smoke get in your eyes!