E-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury in adolescents: a review of imaging features


Department of Radiology, Aurora St. Luke's Hospital


BACKGROUND: There has been a recent increase in recognition of lung disease related to the use of electronic cigarettes (called "vaping"). These patients present with acute respiratory illness following exposure to vaporized cannabis or nicotine products and sometimes require hospitalization and intensive care. We describe the imaging findings of this disease entity in the pediatric population.

OBJECTIVE: To describe the radiologic findings of lung injury associated with electronic cigarette use (vaping) in the adolescent pediatric population.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: We identified all adolescents with acute respiratory illness and a history of electronic cigarette use who presented at our institution within a 3-month period (June 2019 through August 2019). We excluded adolescents with potential intercurrent pulmonary disease. We reviewed the charts for symptomatology and laboratory and pathology data. In addition, we reviewed the chest radiographs and chest CTs of these adolescents.

RESULTS: The review group consisted of 12 teenage pediatric patients (10 boys and 2 girls; mean age 16.9 years, range 16.0-17.7 years) with acute respiratory illness found to have a temporal association with electronic cigarette use for cannabis products, nicotine, or both. Other etiologies for illness in these adolescents had been excluded by clinical and laboratory evaluation. All of the adolescents were admitted to the hospital for treatment. The clinical presentations included dyspnea, abdominal pain and constitutional symptoms. Pulmonary function testing that was performed in all patients during admission or follow-up demonstrated reduced diffusion capacity in 4/12 (33%), an obstructive ventilatory pattern in 4/12 (33%), a restrictive pattern in 1/12 (8%), and a mixed obstructive and restrictive pattern in 2/12 (17%) adolescents. Bronchoalveolar lavage studies, performed in 9 of the 12 adolescents, revealed inflammatory cells and lipid-laden macrophages. All of the patients underwent CT of the chest; the findings were notable for centrilobular ground-glass nodules (11/12; 92%) and confluent ground-glass opacities (12/12; 100%), with frequent subpleural sparing (9/12; 75%). Additionally, 6/12 (50%) adolescents demonstrated small pleural effusions; 6/12 (50%) had mild bronchial wall thickening; 9/12 (75%) had enlarged hilar or mediastinal lymph nodes; and 2/12 (17%) had a small pericardial effusion.

CONCLUSION: As seen in our teenage population, e-cigarette, or vaping, product use-associated lung injury (EVALI) is characterized by centrilobular ground-glass nodules and ground-glass opacities with subpleural sparing. The imaging findings are most consistent with acute lung injury resulting from toxic inhalation. Because adolescent pediatric patients might not be forthcoming with their history of electronic cigarette use, it is important for the pediatric radiologist to be aware of the imaging patterns of this disease.

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