Vaping side effects are induced by vaping too much, inhaling too much nicotine, a sensitivity to propylene glycol and/or vegetable glycerine (VG) and by using powerful vape devices that deliver too much hot vapour to the mouth and throat.
According to a recent national survey of US e-cigarette users published in the Drug and Alcohol Dependence journal, the most reported vaping side effects are dry mouth, mouth and throat irritation, cough, sore throat, headache and dizziness. If you experience any of these side effects from vaping, you are likely vaping too much.
The side effects of vaping are more likely to be experienced by beginners and those who have recently switched from smoking cigarettes to vaping e-cigarettes. While the nicotine alkaloid is the same in a cigarette vs a vape, the amount of nicotine that the body absorbs differs, and your body can take time to adjust.
While vaping side effects like nausea and shortness of breath (caused by EVALI) can occur, e-cigarette users do not report these more serious side effects as frequently as dry mouth and coughing. In the case of vaping side effects related to EVALI, the CDC advises that most of these cases of serious lung damage originate from illegal vaping devices that contain illegal substances.
If you're vaping too much or inhaling too much nicotine, you may experience the vaping side effects listed below.
- Dry Mouth
- Mouth and Throat Irritation
- Sore Throat
- Shortness of Breath
- Decreased Appetite
- Increased Heart Rate
- Heart Palpitations
1. Dry Mouth
Dry mouth (xerostomia) is one of the most common vaping side effects caused by the dehydrating effects of PG, VG, and nicotine. These e-liquid ingredients dehydrate the mouth, reduce saliva flow and decrease saliva production leading to the symptoms of dry mouth.
PG (Propylene Glycol) and Vegetable Glycerine (VG) are humectants, which means they draw water from their surroundings. When the vapour from an e-cigarette enters the oral cavity, the vaporised PG and VG draw water from the skin cells in the mouth, causing the dry mouth side effect.
The dry mouth vaping side effect can also be caused by nicotine, which reduces the salivary flow in the mouth. Nicotine stimulates the nervous system, which leads to a constriction of blood vessels in the salivary glands and reduces saliva production.
Age also plays a factor in symptoms of dry mouth from vaping. According to a study from the School of Nursing, Chengdu University of Traditional Chinese Medicine, those under the age of 25 are 30% more likely to report dry mouth as a side effect of using e-cigarettes.
A dry mouth caused by vaping can lead to ageusia, a loss of taste, commonly referred to as vaper’s tongue. According to the Cleveland Clinic, dry mouth can cause damage to your taste buds and without enough saliva production, your taste receptors may not be stimulated.
You can mitigate the dry mouth vaping side effect and alleviate its symptoms by staying hydrated and avoiding mouth breathing. The standard daily water recommendations from the US National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicines are 3.7 litres (a little less than a gallon or 16 cups) of water a day for men and 2.7 litres (0.7 gallons or 11 cups) for women. Avoid mouth breathing, as this increases the chance of drying the tissues that line your mouth, further exacerbating dry mouth.
2. Mouth and Throat Irritation
Mouth and throat irritation is a common vaping side effect that can present as gum irritation, an itchy throat or feeling like you need to cough after using an e-cigarette. Propylene glycol (PG) and nicotine in e-liquids can dry the mouth and irritate the throat. Those with sensitive skin may be more susceptible to irritation caused by the drying effects of PG. Some studies suggest that, in extreme cases, throat irritation can lead to oesophagus inflammation and symptoms similar to gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
The main cause of mouth irritation as a side effect of vaping is the drying effect of propylene glycol (PG), one of the key ingredients in e-liquid. As PG dehydrates the mouth, it can cause inflation and swelling of the gums presenting as gum redness and tender gums. This can lead to an abandonment of oral hygiene, as swollen gums may be painful and bleed while brushing. In extreme cases, this side effect can develop into plaque build-up, tooth decay and cavities from poor oral health.
While not scientifically evidenced, some users anecdotally report increased mouth irritation as a vaping side effect from using menthol and cinnamon e-liquid flavours.
The main cause of throat irritation as a vaping side effect is a sensitivity to PG and high nicotine e-liquids. Those with a sensitivity or allergy to PG may experience exacerbated throat irritation, as this e-liquid ingredient can cause a drying effect in the throat. This dryness can lead to a persistent itch or the sensation of needing to cough.
High nicotine e-liquids can cause a burning or tingling sensation in the throat when inhaled. As noted by Dr Eric Kendall Soule in a 2020 study, throat irritation can be worsened by nicotine-containing e-liquids leading to vaping side effects such as itchy, scratchy, or dry throat; sore throat; burned or tingling feeling in throat; and throat pain.
While not scientifically evidenced, some users anecdotally report increased throat irritation as a vaping side effect from using citrus, sour, cola, and custard e-liquid flavours.
In extreme cases, the throat irritation side effect caused by vaping can extend to the oesophagus, leading to oesophagus inflammation. This was highlighted in a 2021 case study where a 25-year-old male developed severe esophagitis after heavy daily use of vaping devices containing both nicotine and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC).
Dr Trisha Satya Pasricha, from the Division of Gastroenterology at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, authored the case study and explained that the nicotine in the e-cigarettes may have disrupted the function of the oesophageal sphincter. This disruption increased acid reflux events, causing symptoms and conditions similar to those seen in GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), such as heartburn, chest pain, and difficulty swallowing.
Several remedies can help alleviate mouth and throat irritation, which is a side effect of vaping. Staying hydrated is a simple yet effective solution; drinking plenty of water can soothe the throat, maintain moisture in the mouth, and reduce inflammation. Over-the-counter medications, such as ibuprofen, can also be beneficial in managing discomfort. These medications not only reduce pain but also help to decrease inflammation.
Coughing, often called "vapers cough", is one of the most common vaping side effects. There are three main causes of this side effect: sensitivity to propylene glycol (PG), the sensation of vapour hitting the back of the throat, and the setup of the vape device itself.
PG (Propylene Glycol): Some vapers may have a sensitivity to PG, which can cause vapers cough. If this is the case, trying a different VG/PG ratio may help alleviate coughing from vaping. Additionally, PG causes drying of the throat, which can lead to a cough. To combat this, drink more water and stay hydrated while vaping.
The Sensation of Vapor: Especially for beginners, the sensation of vapour hitting the back of the throat can cause a cough. This is similar to the "smoker's cough" experienced by many cigarette smokers due to inhaling particles. As your throat begins to acclimatise to the sensation of vapour, you should see a reduction in coughing as a side effect of vaping.
Vape Setup: Your e-cigarette setup can also contribute to the intensity of coughing caused by vaping. If the atomiser is damaged, replacing it can often minimise vapers cough. If the device is too powerful, consider using a less powerful device or adjusting the power settings. If the nicotine strength of the e-liquid is too high, try using a lower strength.
4. Sore Throat
Sore throat is one of the most common vaping side effects primarily caused by the drying out of the skin in the throat, which is attributable to the propylene glycol (PG) in vape juice. Both PG and vegetable glycerine (VG), key ingredients in e-liquids, are hygroscopic, meaning they draw water from their surroundings. PG, in particular, can dry out the delicate skin in the throat, leading to a sore throat.
Drinking water can help soothe this vaping side effect by keeping a sore throat moist, reducing dryness, and flushing out irritants and toxins. Staying hydrated by increasing your water intake promotes saliva production, which aids in the healing process. Adjusting the VG/PG ratio of your e-liquid can also help reduce the drying effect of these vape ingredients and prevent the sore throat side effects from vaping.
Gargling with warm water can provide temporary relief to a Sore Throat from Vaping by moistening the throat and removing any lingering irritants.
If you are experiencing soreness in your throat as a side effect of vaping, check the power settings of your vape device. High power settings can cause the vapour to be too hot, further drying out the throat. Turn down the power to reduce the temperature of the vapour, or consider using a less powerful vape device, which will decrease the likelihood of getting a sore throat from vaping.
Headaches are a common vaping side effect primarily caused by vasoconstriction triggered by nicotine and dehydration originating from propylene glycol (PG). Nicotine causes vasoconstriction, reducing blood oxygen supply to the brain, which can lead to a headache. PG is hygroscopic, drawing water out of cells and leading to a headache from dehydration. Remedies include reducing nicotine strength and increasing water intake.
A side effect of vaping nicotine is vasoconstriction, which narrows blood vessels, reducing blood flow to the brain and leading to headaches or migraines. According to Neal L. Benowitz from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, San Francisco, exposure to nicotine can contribute to the progression of chronic hypertension to accelerated or malignant hypertension. This vasoconstriction can aggravate a headache from vaping by further narrowing the blood vessels and reducing oxygen to the brain, causing a migraine.
As well as a vaping side effect, headaches can be a symptom of nicotine withdrawal. According to a 2017 report by the Internal Medicine Residency program of Florida Hospital, Orlando, Florida, USA, nicotine withdrawal symptoms peak within the first three days of smoking cessation. Headache is one of the most common symptoms of nicotine withdrawal, with an incidence of about 5-10%.
Vaping headaches can be caused by dehydration that originates from the hygroscopic properties of propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerine (VG), key ingredients in e-liquids. These substances draw water from their surroundings, leading to dehydration, a common cause of headaches.
If you are experiencing a headache, a common side effect of vaping, consider reducing the nicotine strength in your e-liquid. Increasing water intake can help counteract the dehydration headaches caused by the hygroscopic properties of propylene glycol (PG) and vegetable glycerine (VG).
Dizziness, characterised by a sensation of lightheadedness, unsteadiness, or a feeling of spinning, is a common side effect of vaping. The primary reason for feeling dizzy when vaping is nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that can cause dizzy spells and lightheadedness.
If the nicotine strength in your e-liquid is too high or too strong, it can cause you to feel dizzy. Try reducing your nicotine concentration or vaping less frequently to prevent the stimulant effects of nicotine from surprising your nervous system.
Dizziness, a potential side effect after vaping, can also be caused by dehydration. The hygroscopic properties of vegetable glycerin (VG) and propylene glycol (PG), key ingredients in e-liquids, can cause dry mouth, dry throat and dehydration. Dehydration can lead to a decrease in blood volume, which can lower blood pressure and reduce the amount of blood flow to the brain, further contributing to dizziness.
Nausea from vaping, commonly called “nic-sick”, is a vaping side effect resulting from inhaling too much nicotine. Overuse of e-cigarettes, or “chain-vaping”, particularly with high nicotine content, increases the risk of nausea as a vaping side effect. Stressful situations, which can prompt more frequent e-cigarette usage, increase the likelihood of experiencing nausea. Resuming vaping after a break at the previous levels of nicotine intake might induce feelings of nausea, as the body may need time to readjust to the nicotine levels.
In a US national survey conducted by Wake Forest University School of Medicine, nausea was identified as a less common side effect of e-cigarette use. The most frequently reported symptoms were coughing and dry or irritated mouth or throat. Nausea was reported by a significantly smaller proportion of participants, only 1.6%. This suggests that although nausea can occur from vaping, it is not as prevalent as other vaping side effects, such as coughing or dry mouth.
While nausea can be a symptom of nicotine poisoning, you are highly unlikely to experience nicotine poisoning from vaping alone. However, consuming e-liquid orally can result in nicotine poisoning. According to Dr. Bernd Mayer, a professor of pharmacology at Karl-Franzens University in Graz, Austria, the common warnings about the lethal potential of ingesting small amounts of diluted nicotine-containing solutions or tobacco products may be overstated. His analysis suggests that ingestion of more than 0.5 grams of oral nicotine would be necessary to cause fatality in an adult (25 times the UK legal limit of 20mg). Thus, while nicotine is indeed a toxic compound that should be handled with care, the likelihood of fatal nicotine poisoning from vaping or accidental ingestion of e-liquid is minimal.
If you are experiencing nausea as a side effect of vaping, such as feeling queasy or experiencing stomach discomfort, consider reducing the nicotine concentration of your e-liquid. Alternatively, try lowering the frequency at which you vape. Overuse of nicotine may overwhelm your system and induce feelings of nausea. Alternatively, consider reducing the length of your draws. Shorter, more measured inhalations could help to prevent inhaling excessive amounts of nicotine, thereby helping to manage any nausea related to vaping.
8. Shortness of Breath
Shortness of breath, also known as dyspnea, is a vaping side effect characterised by difficulty breathing, a tightness in the chest, and a feeling of being unable to draw a complete breath. In the context of vaping, this condition can be triggered by E-cigarette or Vaping Use-Associated Lung Injury (EVALI), and by the nicotine found in e-cigarettes.
EVALI is a condition that can lead to serious lung damage, including lipoid pneumonia, which occurs when oil or fat substances enter the lungs. A 2020 Press Release issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), confirmed that most EVALI patients reported using tetrahydrocannabinol (THC)-containing products. As of January 2020, 82% of EVALI patients nationwide reported THC-containing e-cigarettes. The CDC advises against the use of THC-containing vaping products. In the UK, where THC vapes are illegal, shortness of breath caused by EVALI vaping is not a serious concern, as advised by the UK Health Security Agency.
You may experience shortness of breath as a side effect of vaping too much nicotine. Nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, which in turn increases heart rate and raises blood pressure. This surge in adrenaline can result in the constriction and narrowing of the air paths and blood vessels in the lungs, effectively limiting the air supply and causing shortness of breath.
If you are experiencing shortness of breath as a side effect of vaping, reduce your nicotine intake by reducing your vaping frequency or reducing the nicotine strength of your vape.
9. Decreased Appetite
Decreased appetite is a side effect of vaping caused by the nicotine in e-cigarettes. Nicotine is an appetite suppressant as it interacts with the hypothalamus in the brain, triggering the release of hormones and neurotransmitters that signal fullness and reduce the desire to eat.
A study conducted by the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado details nicotine's interaction with receptors in the brain that regulate food intake (specifically the alpha-7 nicotinic acetylcholine receptor). The study found that increased nicotine intake made the receptors more active, leading to feelings of fullness and reduced appetite.
Nicotine impacts neurotransmitters like dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin, leading to feelings of satisfaction that can suppress the urge to eat. A study by J Audrain-McGovern and NL Benowitz found that nicotine's influence on these neurotransmitters can lead to weight loss over the course of 12 months. So when asking, “does vaping make you lose weight”, it is clear that the appetite suppressant side effects of vaping nicotine can lead to weight loss over time.
Insomnia, or difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep, is a side effect of vaping primarily caused by nicotine, which is a chemical stimulant. The heightened state of alertness induced by vaping nicotine can make sleep challenging, as it increases adrenaline levels and triggers dopamine release in the brain.
A study by the Department of Sleep Medicine, St. Hedwig Kliniken, Berlin, Germany, explored the impact of nicotine, particularly during withdrawal, on sleep. The research discovered increased wakefulness and arousal as a side effect of nicotine withdrawal. Moreover, individuals who relapsed into smoking demonstrated more profound sleep disturbances, characterised by reduced rapid eye movement (REM) sleep, extended REM latency, and severe withdrawal symptoms.
The side effects of nicotine withdrawal can extend into night-time, which may lead to restlessness and interruptions in sleep. As nicotine levels from vaping decrease during the night, withdrawal symptoms can become evident.
To combat sleep disturbances and insomnia side effects from vaping, refrain from nicotine use for 1-2 hours before going to sleep. This reduces the stimulant effects of nicotine and promotes better sleep quality.
Irritability can be a side effect of vaping, particularly in the context of nicotine addiction and withdrawal. Nicotine dependency occurs as nicotine triggers dopamine release in the brain when inhaled, leading to feelings of pleasure and relaxation. As these effects wear off, withdrawal symptoms can set in, causing side effects of irritability, anxiety, and depression.
A study by Dr Marcia Ward, a Research Professor at the University of Iowa, looked into the complaints of 46 healthy individuals who quit smoking and remained abstinent for the first month. The study found that feelings of anger, anxiety, depression, difficulty concentrating, irritability, restlessness, dizziness, and nausea were common in the early days of nicotine cessation, but these side effects were transient. Desire to smoke and headaches were identified as "offset effects", lasting longer but eventually also subsiding.
Insomnia, another vaping side effect, can further exacerbate irritability. A lack of quality sleep can lead to feelings of anger, frustration, difficulty concentrating, and increased irritability.
Moreover, nicotine stimulates the release of adrenaline, leading to an increased heart rate and blood pressure, which can contribute to feelings of restlessness and irritability.
12. Increased Heart Rate
Increased heart rate is a side effect of vaping nicotine. Nicotine is a stimulant that activates the sympathetic nervous system, increasing adrenaline (epinephrine) and raising the heart rate. The sympathetic nervous system is part of your body's autonomic nervous system that prepares your body for 'fight or flight' during stressful situations by releasing adrenaline. The rise in adrenaline consequently increases the heart rate and boosts overall cardiac activity.
A 2017 study conducted by Neal L. Benowitz from the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California, found a 150% increase in plasma epinephrine, a form of adrenaline, as a side effect of nicotine leading to an increased heart rate and blood pressure. The study revealed that nicotine stimulates a heart rate increase by as much as 10-15 beats per minute acutely, and on average by 7 beats per minute throughout the day. The study observed these side effects irrespective of how nicotine is delivered - whether through tobacco smoke or other vaping.
13. Heart Palpitations
Heart palpitations, defined as rapid, fluttering, or pounding heart sensations, can be a vaping side effect caused by the nicotine in e-cigarettes. Nicotine is a stimulant that can make the heartbeat more noticeable and affect the heart's rhythm, resulting in it beating harder or faster, hence leading to heart palpitations.
While they can be alarming, the UK National Health Service (NHS) advises that heart palpitations as a side effect of vaping nicotine are generally not serious. The NHS advises that individuals should seek medical attention from a General Practitioner (GP) if heart palpitations persist or worsen, if they last longer than a few minutes, if you have a pre-existing heart condition, or if there is a history of heart problems in your family.
Allergic Reactions or Sensitivities from Vaping
Vaping, particularly with popular products like nic salts or disposable vapes, can sometimes lead to allergic reactions or sensitivities. These can manifest in a variety of ways, including sneezing, gagging, throat irritation, coughing, wheezing, and shortness of breath. These reactions can be triggered by various ingredients of the e-liquid, including nicotine, propylene glycol (PG), vegetable glycerin (VG), and flavourings.
The most common allergy when it comes to vaping is an allergy to propylene glycol (PG) or vegetable glycerin (VG), which are used as base liquids in e-juice. If you suspect you're having an allergic reaction to one of these ingredients, consider trying an e-liquid that is 100% PG or 100% VG. This can help you identify if you're sensitive to one of these ingredients.
However, if symptoms persist even after switching products, you should stop vaping and consult with a healthcare professional. As with any potential side effects, individual responses to vaping products can vary widely, and not everyone who vapes will experience these reactions. It's important to monitor any changes and consult with a healthcare professional if you have any concerns.
How Much Nicotine is in a Cigarette vs Vape?
When comparing the Nicotine in a Cigarette vs Vape, absorption is a key factor. A 20mg/ml vape with a 2ml e-liquid capacity contains 40mg of nicotine in total. The body absorbs about 50% of the nicotine delivered from vaping, or 20mg in this case. Comparatively, the body absorbs about 1-2mg of nicotine from smoking a full-flavour cigarette. Therefore, a 20mg vape is the equivalent of 10-20 cigarettes.