Vaping Side Effects & Safety: How to Protect Yourself From Harmful Chemicals
Although vaping is a safer alternative to smoking, it isn’t free from side effects. If you’re interested in starting vaping, or you’ve recently switched and are wondering if what you’re experiencing is normal, finding out about the common side effects of vaping can help to set your mind at ease. Thankfully, all of the vaping side effects identified in research so far are very minor, and usually clear up over time. However, finding out how to minimize them and how to make sure you’re vaping as safely as possible is still a good idea.
What Are the Side Effects From Vaping?
There are many ways to find out about the side effects of vaping, but the most reliable is to look at the scientific evidence on vaping, and in particular, what smokers trying to quit as part of studies report. There are quite a lot of studies addressing the question of whether vaping is useful for smokers trying to quit, and many ask the people participating to record any vaping side effects they experience.
We’ve looked through a total of seven different studies (see the references at the bottom of the post for a full list) which asked their participants about any side effects they experienced, and on the whole, the results were pretty unanimous. So, if you’re looking to find out about the side effects from vaping, these are the most important ones.
Mouth and Throat Irritation
Although mouth and throat irritation is classed as one of the side effects of vaping, it’s actually more of an intended effect than anything else. Smoke is inherently irritating to your mouth and throat, and for vaping to be a good replacement for smoking, it had to replicate this sensation. This is one of the main reasons PG (propylene glycol) is used in the majority of e-juices: it provides a smoking-like “throat hit” when you inhale it.
So it’s not really surprising that between 20 and 30 % of participants in various quitting studies reported irritation of the mouth and throat. Really, everyone would be expected to have this, but this shows that it’s worse for some vapers than others. In every study tracking this side effect over time, though, it got less common the more people got used to vaping.
Dry Throat and Mouth
One of the other most common vape side effects is a dry mouth and throat. This results from the properties of PG and VG (vegetable glycerin). Both of these ingredients are “hygroscopic,” which means they absorb moisture from their environments. So when you inhale vapor, your mouth and throat come into contact with PG and VG, and lose some of their moisture to the chemicals as a result.
This was also reported by around 20 to 30 percent of users in the studies, and although it got less common over time, it didn’t decrease as much as mouth and throat irritation did. Of course, this can be rectified by staying well hydrated when you vape.
Like the other two side effects from vaping covered so far, the fact that some users get a sore throat is due to the main ingredients of e-liquid. In the case of sore throat, the “throat hit” from PG is the most likely culprit. The distinction between “sore throat” and irritation isn’t crystal-clear, but it’s best just to think about a sore throat as a persistent and likely painful irritation. This was less common than irritation (only affecting fewer than 10 percent of vapers in the studies), but can be a big issue for some vapers, in particular just-switching smokers.
We’ve known for a while that some people are particularly sensitive to the throat-irritating effects of PG. For these vapers, any e-juice with a high PG content can be very uncomfortable to use, and may even be so bad that they can’t continue to vape it. In these cases, switching to higher-VG e-liquids may be the best solution. However, higher nicotine e-liquids can also be harsher to vape, so if you’re struggling with this vaping side effect, you could also try reducing your nicotine level and see if that helps.
Another of the most common vaping side effects is coughing, which affects between 20 and 30 percent of new vapers based on published research. As you may expect by now, this is again related to the “throat hit” aspect of vaping. PG irritates your throat, and for many users this leads to a dry cough.
However, there is a little more to coughing and vaping than just PG. It may also be related to how you inhale when you vape. Smokers tend to inhale into their mouths first and then their lungs (called a mouth to lung inhale), whereas longer-term vapers inhale directly into their lungs. Mouth to lung inhales don’t cause problems when your e-cig is well-suited to it – usually when you have a tight airflow – but if your atomizer is better suited to lung inhales (like most sub ohm tanks are), trying a mouth to lung inhale can easily lead to coughing. Additionally, variable wattage e-cigs set at high power produce more vapor and warmer vapor, which can also cause coughing in new users.
The good news is that this is another of the side effects from vaping which gets better over time. Peer-reviewed studies show this to be the case, but it’s most impressively demonstrated by a survey of vapers conducted by E-Cigarette Direct. This found that over half of users coughed when they were new to vaping, but at the time of the survey, over 90 percent no longer coughed. The post accompanying this survey suggests trying a new PG/VG ratio, trying inhaling in a different way, drinking more water and reducing your nicotine level to stop coughing when you vape.
This may seem like a strange one, but one of the other most common side effects from vaping is headaches. Estimates for how common headaches from vaping are vary quite a bit, though, with one study only suggesting about 12 percent of users experience the side effect, but others putting the figure at about 27 percent.
This is probably caused by dehydration. Because the main ingredients of e-juice suck moisture out of their surroundings (which is why they cause dry mouths and throats), this leads to many vapers getting dehydrated after a day of us, which in turn can cause headaches. Thankfully, the simple cause of the headache has an equally simple solution: make sure you stay hydrated when you vape.
Dizziness and Nausea
Finally, dizziness and nausea are also commonly reported as e-cigarette side effects. About 15 percent of new vapers experience this, according to published research. Some of the studies report this getting less common over time, but the change isn’t as unanimous as for the other vape side effects we’ve covered in this post.
So what causes dizziness and nausea from vaping? This time, the culprit is likely to be nicotine. In fact, mild nausea and some dizziness is often the first sign that you’ve had a bit too much nicotine and you need to leave your e-cig alone for a little while. If you’re suffering from this regularly, it could be that the nicotine level you’ve chosen is too high for you, so try out an e-juice in a lower nicotine level and see if it improves.
How to Minimize the Side Effects From Vaping and General Safety Tips
This advice has been briefly covered in the relevant sections above too, but we’ll collect it all here for easy reference. Here are the simplest ways to reduce the side effects from vaping:
- Try Different PG/VG Ratios: PG produces a strong throat hit, so higher-PG e-juice can often make problems like mouth and throat irritation or coughing worse. Most vapers find an even mix (50/50 PG/VG) absolutely fine, but if you get a more severe sore throat when you vape or still have problems with an even mix of PG and VG, it’s worth trying a higher-VG mix to see if it helps.
- Reduce Your Nicotine Strength: Although higher nicotine strengths are generally good when you’re trying to quit smoking, higher-nicotine juices can cause vaping side effects like dry throat, irritation, coughing and dizziness or nausea. If you’re experiencing these issues, consider switching to a lower-nicotine juice.
- Change How You Inhale: If you have a higher-power e-cig or an atomizer with a lot of airflow, mouth-to-lung inhales might not be the best approach. Try one-stage “direct to lung” inhales and see if it helps. Or, if you have a low airflow atomizer, make sure you’re using two-stage mouth-to-lung inhales. You can also close off or open up your airflow to suit your inhalation style.
- Stay Hydrated: If you’re having problems with a dry mouth and throat, or you’re suffering headaches after a day of vaping, the solution is simple: drink more water! Staying hydrated is a good idea anyway, but when you vape it’s absolutely essential.
- Give it Time: If the side effects you’re experiencing aren’t too severe, you can always just power through and see if it gets more manageable with time. Most vaping side effects reduce with time, so you might just need a little longer to get used to it.
Staying Safe When You Vape
Although most side effects of vaping are to do with how you vape or what you vape, there are also a couple of general safety tips you should follow to stay as safe as possible that also may reduce the side effects you experience.
The Benefits of Temperature Control
Firstly, if you’re finding vaping too harsh on your throat or are regularly coughing when you vape, you may benefit from switching to a temperature control e-cig. These limit the maximum temperature of your coil and effectively remove “dry puffs” – which are harsh on your throat and generally taste unpleasant – and ensure you get consistent performance from your device.
Why Quality Matters When it Comes to E-Juice
When E-Cigarette Direct investigated the issue of coughing when you vape, they spoke to Professor Riccardo Polosa, who pointed out that:
“We cannot discount the possibility of other unknown ingredients, contaminants, by-products in the e-vapour causing similar irritant effects.”
In other words, if you’re e-juice has contaminants, this could also be causing the irritation to your mouth and throat when you vape. The solution to this is simple: make sure you buy high-quality e-juice from reputable companies.
Here at Black Note, we take the quality of our juice very seriously, and take special care to ensure purity and consistency with every batch. We even get our juices tested by an independent lab to ensure freedom from contaminants and chemicals that can cause irritation like acrolein.
Other Ingredients to Avoid
Although these are unlikely to contribute to immediate side effects from vaping, there are a few other things you should look out for when you’re buying e-juice.
The most well-known of these is diacetyl. This is a buttery flavoring that has been linked to lung disease (more on this here) and should be avoided by health-conscious vapers. The similar chemical acetyl propionyl is expected to carry similar risks, and although acetoin isn’t dangerous in itself, it’s often contaminated with diacetyl.
Black Note’s e-juice is certified by an independent lab to be free from all of these chemicals (and more).
Conclusion – Vaping Side Effects Aren’t Serious, And Can Be Avoided
Whenever you inhale anything that isn’t air, take any medication or do pretty much anything, there can be side effects, and vaping is no different. The good news for vapers and just-switching smokers is that the side effects from vaping appear to be minimal, don’t affect every user and tend to clear up with time. Even better than this, if you choose your e-juice carefully and take some steps to reduce any potential issues, you’ll probably be able to avoid them altogether or at least make them manageable. After you’ve taken a few simple precautions, you can focus on what’s really important: quitting smoking and managing your cravings.
Bullen, C. et. al. (2013) Electronic cigarettes for smoking cessation: a randomised controlled trial