Health & Spirit

With a mystery illness surrounding vaping, what parents need to know

Kate Thayer, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Health & Fitness

CHICAGO -- As public health officials try to identify a respiratory illness that has hospitalized teenagers who vape across the country, including as many as 22 in Illinois, experts say some parents still don't realize the dangers of the practice, which can be even more addictive than tobacco cigarettes.

In recent weeks, adolescents with difficulty breathing were hospitalized, and some put on ventilators, health officials said. In Illinois 10 of these cases have been linked to vaping and 12 more are under investigation as of Wednesday, according to the Illinois Department of Public Health. There are dozens more in other states.

As state and federal health officials search for answers, experts say it's important for parents to understand the dangers of vaping and e-cigarettes -- now the most used tobacco products among youths.

Here are five things to know about the dangers of vaping:


E-cigarettes, or vapes, or Juuls -- a popular brand name -- are devices that heat liquid that usually contains nicotine, producing an aerosol vapor inhaled by the user.


Dr. Trevor Lewis, interim chair of emergency medicine at Stroger Hospital, said some parents believe vapes contain harmless water vapor. However, not only are the devices usually filled with addictive nicotine, but also flavorings "that could be chemicals we don't know about."

"Several things could be in this mixture that you're inhaling into your lungs," he said. Vaping "is still relatively new, so no one knows the long-term consequences of this."

That's part of the concern about the new respiratory illness and its possible link to vaping that's sent dozens to the hospital, Lewis said. Doctors do not know enough about the substances inhaled into the teens' lungs, he said.

Karen Wolownik Albert, a social worker and executive director of Gateway Foundation's Lake County treatment center, said she talks to parents and teens about the dangers of vaping, and she warns them about the ingredients, like glycerol, used for flavor. She said she hears from parents that a sticky substance coats their windows after a teen has vaped inside. "That's like glycerin accumulating in your lungs."


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