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Can You Get Sick From Hookah?

DISCLAIMER: None of us here at Hookah-Shisha are doctors or medical professionals, so do keep that in mind when reading this information. If you have any health concerns, we highly recommend contacting your personal physician to discuss any of your concerns.

It’s a question that we get asked often and that many of us have personal experience with, so we’re here to help answer it! So...can hookah make you sick?

The short answer is yes, but it is a lot more complicated than that.

From working in hookah lounges and here at Hookah-Shisha, I’ve seen and heard it all. The most common complaints when it comes to how hookah makes you feel is that some people experience:

  • Dizziness
  • Headaches
  • Nausea

When smoking hookah, there are a number of factors at play that can definitely cause a less than pleasant experience. We’ll address these factors in this blog and give you some tips at the bottom of the blog that will help you avoid issues during your next session!

Why do I get dizzy when I smoke hookah?

Most hookah tobacco, otherwise known as “shisha,” will contain nicotine. Some brands of shisha will contain less nicotine than other brands, but there will almost always be at least some amount of nicotine in your flavor unless you're using tobacco-free herbal shisha.

Nicotine is the primary source of the “buzz” that you feel when you smoke. This “buzz” can manifest differently depending on the person, but the most common effects are:

  • A “tingling” feeling
  • Relaxation
  • Lightheadedness
  • Dizziness

While these are feelings that some people actively search for in their session, a nicotine buzz can definitely cause adverse effects depending on your tolerance.

If you are a new hookah smoker, or don’t smoke hookah too often, your sensitivity to nicotine can definitely mean that you will experience an uncomfortable amount of dizziness or lightheadedness.

Why do I get a headache when I smoke hookah?

hookah headache

Thinking back to my early days of hookah, I definitely remember the “hookah hangovers” that my friends and I would get after going to our local hookah lounge. At the time, we were “newbies” to hookah so we just accepted that headaches were a part of it and didn’t really think too much about it.

Once I got some more hookah experience under my belt, the reasons behind these headaches became more and more clear.

As mentioned before, there are a number of factors at play and this is even more true when talking about “hookah headaches.” From our experience, the main reasons behind the headaches are:

  • Dehydration
  • Nicotine
  • Oxygen deprivation
  • Smoking on an empty stomach
  • Improperly lit charcoal
  • Quick lighting charcoal

Let’s go over these point by point!

  • Dehydration - Smoking a hookah for a long period of time can cause your body to become dehydrated, which can then cause a headache. In my experience in lounges, hookah was a “nightlife” activity that is often accompanied with alcohol, or other “party beverages” (i.e. soda, energy drinks, etc.). These types of drinks can also cause you to become even more dehydrated, especially when combined with a hookah.
  • Nicotine - As mentioned above, hookah tobacco contains a naturally occurring chemical called nicotine. The nicotine provides you with the “buzz” but can also cause some people to get headaches.
  • Oxygen Deprivation - You know what you’re not doing while you’re taking a puff of your hookah? Breathing in that good ol’ oxygen! Smoking for long periods of time can absolutely cause your body to get deprived of much needed oxygen which can cause headaches and lightheadedness.
  • Smoking on an empty stomach - Smoking hookah can cause all kinds of fluctuations in your body chemistry, such as affecting your blood sugar. Smoking on an empty stomach can definitely cause you to get a headache or feel nauseous, and it can also cause the reasons listed above to become exacerbated.
  • Improperly lit charcoal - You can find yourself in headaches-vile when you use charcoal that's lit partially or still in the lighting process as you inhale. The best/headache free sessions happen when you're charcoal is glowing red before you start smoking.
  • Quick lighting charcoal - Quick light coals are great in a pinch when you don't have a coal burner or you're out of the house because they can be ignited with a standard lighter. They can also lead to headaches when used improperly or you have some sensitivity to the smell/taste of the charcoal. We ALWAYS recommend the use of natural hookah charcoal for your session because they produce a better taste and have a longer burning time.

These reasons are by no means the only reasons that a headache might happen while smoking hookah, but they are definitely the most common in our experience.

Why do I get nauseous when I smoke hookah?

Most hookah smokers will be able to recall a time that they felt nauseous while smoking hookah, or after. While I won’t say that this is exceptionally common, it definitely can happen from time to time and is never fun.

We’ve gone over quite a few causes of “hookah sickness” in this blog, and nausea can be caused by a combination of all the different effects hookah can have.

Typically speaking though, the nausea that you may experience is primarily caused by the “dizziness” or “lightheadedness” that you can get while smoking hookah. The nausea can also be amplified by smoking on an empty stomach or being dehydrated.

Tips to Avoid “Hookah Sickness”

Now, we’ve talked about a lot of the negative side effects of hookah, and it might sound scary. But now we get to the part that we give you some tips to help avoid these side effects, and it’s a lot easier than you think!

  • STAY HYDRATED - What is arguably one of the most important things to remember when smoking hookah is that you need to stay hydrated. As we discussed, hookah can dehydrate you and cause headaches or lightheadedness. Always keep a bottle or glass of water with you when smoking hookah, making sure to keep yourself hydrated. Which is really just a generally good rule in life.
  • Know Your Limits - There are a number of reasons why someone may smoke more than they are able to, but it all boils down to this: know your limits and know when to stop. If you ever start feeling ill, lightheaded, or really anything outside what you’re comfortable with, set the hose down, take a break, and get some fresh air. Just because a hookah is in front of you doesn’t mean you need to be hitting it constantly. If you feel like you’ve smoked too much, there’s no harm in taking a break.
  • Don’t Smoke on an Empty Stomach - This tip is one of my favorites because, really, who needs an excuse to eat food? We never recommend smoking hookah on an empty stomach. Going to the hookah bar? Get some food before hand. Having some friends over to smoke? Order a pizza. Just eat some kind of food. Making sure you smoke on a full stomach will help with avoiding many of these issues.
  • USE A MOUTH TIP - This is mainly just for the “spreading germs” part of smoking hookah. It’s always a good idea to use your own mouth tip when smoking, especially when smoking with other people. This will help cut down on the amount of germs you and your friends are sharing with each other and make it less likely to get an illness.

As I said before, we at Hookah-Shisha are not medical professionals, so take this information how you will, and if you have any health concerns, contact your doctor.

Honorable Mention?

While this is not something that explicitly happens because of hookah, and can happen during normal day-to-day life, it is something that hookah can exacerbate or leave you vulnerable to.

I’m talking about….GERMS!

Hookah is, generally speaking, a social activity where you get together with friends or family to spend time talking about the day, catching up, or really anything you can think of. But you know what else hookah involves? YOUR MOUTH.

A necessary part of smoking hookah is smoking from a hose, by using your mouth. Especially when smoking with other people, passing a single hose back and forth can mean that everyone is sharing germs with each other.

If you were paying attention in health class in middle school, exchanging germs with people can make it more likely for you to catch an illness such as, but not limited to, a cold, the flu, or any other contagious illness.

Hookah is meant to be a fun, enjoyable activity, so hopefully this was insightful and will help you avoid any unpleasant experiences when sitting down to have a hookah!