Does Vaping Cause Tonsillitis?

/ 5 min read
Does Vaping Cause Tonsillitis?

A frequently asked question regarding vaping and health is whether or not vaping can result in tonsillitis. Throughout our lives most of us will experience tonsillitis, and in more extreme cases tonsils can be surgically removed, although this is an older practice and in more contemporary medicine removal is only considered as a last resort.

There have been claims that vaping can trigger the condition, however as with the majority of health-based claims about vaping, the data is conflicting and painting a clear picture is difficult until longer-term studies of improved credibility can be established. This extends to all manner of medical subjects from cancer to skin sagging.

With that said we will explore what we do know below.

What is Tonsillitis?

According to the NHS:

“The tonsils are two small glands that sit on either side of the throat. Especially in young children, they help to fight germs and act as a barrier against infection. When the tonsils become infected, they isolate the infection and stop it spreading further into the body.”

“Tonsillitis is inflammation of the tonsils. It's usually caused by a viral infection or, less commonly, a bacterial infection. Tonsillitis is a common condition in children, teenagers and young adults.”

“The symptoms of tonsillitis include:

  • a sore throat and pain when swallowing
  • earache
  • high temperature (fever) over 38C (100.4F)
  • coughing
  • headache

Symptoms usually pass within three to four days.”

Vaping & Tonsillitis

As we can see above, tonsillitis constitutes a viral or bacterial infection, rather than a general irritation. We must recognise that when vaping, we are inhaling a range of chemicals used to make e-liquid, which while safety tested as a final product, can cause irritation on a case-by-case basis.

Sensitivity to certain flavourings, or even nicotine itself are common, which is why our products display all allergens present, however minimal, on the ingredients list on our packaging. Despite their ability to cause irritation, this still would not medically constitute tonsillitis, it would be an allergic reaction.

As we have seen in our blog about vaping and gum disease however, there is some evidence to suggest that vaping, much like smoking, can create an oral environment in certain circumstances that encourages bacteria to flourish – although again this is not well enough established to say for certain.

Technically if we factor this in, there is potential for vaping to lead to tonsilitis, however the risk appears to be very low. There is a lot of conflicting data on the subject, however the majority of both opinion and study-based information leans towards vaping being a low-risk, in-line with the famous vaping 95 UK government report which found it to be 95% less harmful than cigarettes.

You can explore examples of the debate yourself by checking out Reddit, The Student Room, and Quora but please remember that these are just people’s experiences and opinions, not medical fact.

The NHS maintains that vaping is a useful quitting tool for those looking to stop smoking, and assert that while not risk-free, it offers people a great way to reduce tobacco harm in their own lives from their wellbeing to their wallets, but if you are thinking about vaping to quit, speak to your GP or a Stop Smoking Service before jumping straight in. You can also learn more about the process in our guide Finding the Right Alternative.

A rare example of a never-smoker in a vaping trial

One of the main reasons we are lacking credible data about vaping’s impact on our health, is down to a lack of participants in studies who are classed as ‘never-smokers’. As the name suggests, these are people who vape, but have never smoked before.

As expected, the vast majority of vapers are ex-smokers. This is problematic when exploring the impact of vaping on health, because it is very hard to tell if a condition is the result of the participant’s new vaping habit, or former smoking habit.

Regarding vaping and tonsillitis however, we can observe one study “Resolution of recurrent tonsillitis in a non-smoker who became a vaper. A case study and new hypothesis” - which actually breaks this mould, and utilises a current vaper who has never smoked. Being a single-person case study, this is of course not enough data to make significant claims about vaping’s impact, but the findings are interestingly positive.

Background of the Study

“Evidence concerning the impact of vaping on respiratory infections remains contradictory. Cell and animal studies suggested that vaping may increase vulnerability to respiratory infections, but human data do not confirm this concern.”

The Case Study

“We present a case of a never-smoker who became a vaper and after a few months of e-cigarette use experienced a complete resolution of chronic tonsillitis and a marked improvement in tonsilloliths.”

The Conclusion

“As this is a never-smoker, the improvements cannot be attributed to smoking cessation. One possible explanation is that the improvement was due to antimicrobial properties of propylene glycol. The hypothesis could be tested by a trial of zero-nicotine e-cigarettes in patients with recurrent bacterial throat infection.”

This study alone proves how much we still have to learn about vaping and its impact on our health. While many claim it can cause conditions like tonsillitis, we have just observed a case which has led to a suggestion that propylene glycol, one of the main ingredients in e-liquid, could actually be helping to protect from it.

More Data is Needed

Until we have more real-world, unbiased human data, it will remain difficult to properly assess the long-term risks of vaping. In the short term however, this should not prevent us from considering its potential as a form of tobacco harm reduction.

Although it is clearly in our best interests to seek a nicotine-free lifestyle, which vaping could help you achieve by tapering down mg strengths until you are no longer dependent on vaping or smoking at all.