Although vaping has been effective in smoking cessation, it has the potential for adverse effects, particularly irritation to the mouth and airways. The most likely cause of irritation is usually due to propylene glycol in the e-cigarette liquid, which is safe but drying. The most significant concern with vaping is that its long-term effects are unknown.
Vaping and tobacco smoking may cause a sore throat or "smoker's flu."
Sore throat from vaping may be a result of the solutions used in the vaping liquid and their aerosolization.
Vaping can cause allergies or asthma, but adjusting the vaping method or flavor may help prevent symptoms such as sore throat and lower the potential risks.
Why is my throat sore after I quit smoking cigarettes?
One of the biggest complaints that tobacco smokers have when they try to quit smoking is that their throats get sore. Unfortunately, many smokers use this as an excuse to reaffirm their need for smoking.
The reason is likely due to symptoms of nicotine withdrawal. The person may also experience sneezing or coughing. Other symptoms of nicotine withdrawal may include insomnia, depression, and irritability. Some call this a “smoker’s flu.”
Switching from smoking cigarettes to vaping may be an effective way for some people to stop smoking. Most e-cigarettes contain nicotine; therefore, many assume they can avoid sore throat symptoms. However, that is not always the case.
Why does vaping cause a sore throat?
Throat irritation is common with vaping, particularly among those who have never used e-cigarettes. Furthermore, the smoker’s flu from quitting smoking may persist with vaping. Many also complain of headaches, stomach upset, and sleep difficulties.
The reasons for continued sore throat may be as simple as adjusting to too much nicotine in the e-cigarettes. Unfortunately, many ex-smokers tend to use too much nicotine in their e-cigarettes in hopes of avoiding a sore throat.
The mechanics of inhaling when smoking is a habit for many long-term tobacco smokers. It is likely that if that person continues to inhale deeply with an e-cigarette, then there is a high likelihood of developing a sore throat.
The most likely reason for throat discomfort is that vaping liquids can contain a whole host of potentially harmful ingredients, including a mixture of propylene glycol and glycerol as a solvent carrier or what is known as a humectant. Some studies have identified more than sixty compounds in various vaping cartridges, refilling vaping liquids, and e-cigarette aerosols.
Many e-cigarettes contain various chemical substances and ultrafine particles, which can be toxic, carcinogenic, and cause respiratory and cardiac disease. Some studies have identified tobacco-specific nitrosamines, aldehydes, metals, volatile organic compounds, phenolic compounds, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and tobacco alkaloids.
It may not be a surprise that many of these substances contain harmful or potentially harmful constituents and cause a sore throat.
Humectants in e-cigarettes
The typical sore throat and dryness that e-cigarette users experience may be a result of the delivery solvents, specifically propylene glycol and glycerol or “vegetable glycerin.” Most e-cigarette users find that propylene glycol carries flavor better than glycerol alone, producing a throat “hit” or rush. Conversely, glycerol alone is smoother but less satisfying.
Propylene glycol is clear, odorless, and tasteless. It is used in the food and pharmaceutical industries. It looks like syrup at room temperature.
Propylene glycol was listed as safe by the Food and Drug Administration with the designation “generally recognized as safe” in 1973. This designation was for ingestion. Other routes of administration, such as aerosolization for inhalation, may pose unknown risks.
Some people are allergic to inhaled propylene glycol. Therefore, inhaling propylene glycol may induce symptoms of asthma.
The dry mouth and sore throat from vaping are likely a result of the water-absorbing properties of propylene glycol and glycerol. Data research for long-term exposure to aerosolization of these compounds is not yet available.
Both compounds may lead to the formation of aldehydes (carbonyl compounds) which carry potential risks as well. Interestingly, some of the danger comes from the formation of formaldehyde in the e-cigarettes, which can certainly increase throat soreness.
Flavorings in e-cigarettes
There are thousands of unique flavors associated with e-cigarettes. The problem is that many manufacturers don’t include flavoring components on their ingredient lists. Therefore, it may be impossible to know what e-cigarette users are exposed to and what potential harm the flavors may impose.
Flavors may include pulegone and eucalyptol, which are found in menthol-flavored e-cigarettes. Menthol has the properties of cooling and local anesthesia to the throat, but it may also cause sore throat, respiratory changes, and bronchodilatation.
Other popular flavors include cinnamaldehyde and benzaldehyde. Both can disrupt the equilibrium in the respiratory system and cause eye and throat irritation and dryness.
How to avoid a sore throat from vaping
Of course, avoiding e-cigarettes altogether is the most efficient way to avoid a sore throat. If that is not a viable option, then using smaller and lower-dose solutions is acceptable for some people.
Other helpful tips include:
- Making sure the e-cigarette is working properly with a clean air intake and functioning coil.
- Keep yourself well-hydrated, so your throat doesn’t get sore.
- Routine sore throat remedies help, such as tea, honey, soups, or throat lozenges.
- Don’t overuse nicotine in the vaping liquids.
- Get plenty of exercise.
- Get plenty of sleep.
- Try different vaping styles, such as being more gradual with your vaping hits, leaving time for recovery.
- Try different flavors that may be less irritating to you.
- Rebalance the propylene glycol and glycerol mixture.
- Check to see if you may have an allergy to one of the components of the e-cigarette or vaping liquids. Some people have a nickel allergy, and switching to stainless steel can help.
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