Are My Side Effects Caused by Quitting Smoking or Starting Using E-Cigarettes?
Quitting smoking puts your body through a lot of changes. These are all good changes – drastically reducing your exposure to toxic chemicals and allowing your organs to recover after years of abuse – but they do come with side effects. The only problem is that when you quit smoking by switching to e-cigarettes there are two potential causes for the side effects you’re experiencing, so how do you determine whether its quitting smoking or starting to vape that’s causing your symptoms? While you might experience some less common symptoms, learning the side effects ordinarily associated with quitting smoking and the most commonly-reported side effects of e-cigarettes gives you a good idea of where your symptoms are coming from.
Common Quitting Smoking Side Effects
Many of the side effects people experience when quitting smoking are actually those of nicotine withdrawal. These symptoms are generally psychological in nature – including cravings, low mood, irritability, increased hunger, insomnia and difficulty concentrating – and thankfully, since e-cigarettes still provide you with nicotine, these will generally be kept to an absolute minimum when you switch to vaping. However, you don’t tend to get as much nicotine from e-cigarettes – so you may still experience them to a lesser degree.
Many physical symptoms are also common in quitters; some of these are related to nicotine withdrawal, but others are to do with the fact that your body isn’t being constantly bombarded with the multitude of harmful chemicals found in tobacco smoke.
Within the first few weeks of quitting, you might experience:
- Headaches: People quitting smoking often have headaches, and this is likely a physical symptom of nicotine withdrawal, related to the effect that nicotine has on the neurotransmitter serotonin.
- Chest discomfort: As your lungs recover from continued smoke exposure, some quitters will feel tightness, discomfort or even sharp pains in the chest. This could also be a sign of a more serious issue, though, so it’s worth checking with a doctor if it’s severe.
- Cold and flu-like symptoms: The “quitters flu” is a very common side effect of quitting, leading to cold and flu-like symptoms including sore throat, chest, nose and sinus congestion, coughing and headaches (as mentioned previously). This is caused by the cilia in your lungs – which are damaged by smoking – recovering and starting to clear out your lungs again. This might lead to coughing up a lot of brown-to-black tar-like phlegm.
- Constipation: Smoking doesn’t do any favors for your digestive system either, but quitting allows it to recover. Unfortunately, this often leads to constipation when you quit.
- Bleeding gums: Smoking increases your risk of developing gum problems, but when you smoke, the bleeding that comes with gum disease is masked by the “vasoconstrictive” (blood vessel-tightening) effects of nicotine. This means that stopping smoking may lead to bleeding gums.
These symptoms can last for varying amounts of time, but most of them clear up within a few weeks, although they may persist in a milder form for couple of months. Of course, every quitter is different, and there’s a chance your symptoms will last longer or clear up more quickly.
Side Effects of E-Cigarettes
E-cigarettes don’t cause many side effects, but there are some issues that are commonly reported in research that could be caused by vaping. These are generally mild, and there are some overlaps with the side effects of quitting smoking.
Commonly-reported side effects of vaping include:
- Sore or dry mouth or throat: This is the most common side-effect reported by vapers, and likely results from inhaling propylene glycol (PG) and glycerol (VG), which both absorb moisture. PG also creates a stronger and potentially irritating “throat-hit.”
- Cough: Again likely related to PG, the smoke-like feeling of vaping can lead to a cough.
- Bleeding gums: Since vapers usually consume less nicotine than they did as smokers, the vasoconstrictive effects of smoking reduce too and some vapers experience bleeding gums when they switch.
- Headache: While this is also a side effect of quitting smoking, the dehydrating effects of regular vaping can make headaches more likely.
- Insomnia: Although less common than the other reported side effects, some vapers have trouble with sleeplessness, much like some people who quit smoking do.
The vast majority of the symptoms reported after starting to vape clear up over time, with only around five percent of those reporting side effects in a large study of vapers having their issues persist with the same intensity.
Are My Symptoms From Smoking or Vaping?
It’s clear that there’s a lot of overlap between the symptoms you can expect from quitting smoking and those reported after people switch to vaping. In particular, coughs, bleeding gums, problems sleeping and headaches can all result from quitting smoking and are commonly reported by vapers. While it’s technically difficult to say whether quitting smoking or starting vaping is the cause, bleeding gums and problems sleeping are much more likely to be related to quitting smoking. It’s more likely that vaping at least contributes to headaches (because of dehydration from PG and VG) and coughs (because of the irritant effects of PG).
The one symptom that is more likely to be due to starting vaping rather than quitting smoking is a sore or dry mouth and throat. These may be present as part of the flu-like symptoms of quitting smoking, but it’s the most commonly-reported effect of switching to vaping, and is likely to be a result of the water-absorbing properties of PG and VG. Again, this will clear up for most vapers, and you can minimize the effects by staying especially well hydrated when you start to vape.
So, while there is still some uncertainty about whether some side effects are a result of vaping or quitting smoking, it’s most likely that you’ll only experience a dry mouth or throat and possibly a cough as a result of starting to vape. These normally clear up over time, and are ultimately a very small price to pay for the drastic reduction in risk that switching to vaping represents.
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