Pediatricians warn that the popular cinnamon challenge has landed many kids in the E.R. Ground cinnamon can end up in the lungs. One ER case was as serious as a collapsed lung.
The stunt requires a person to eat a tablespoon of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds or less. Presumably because the task seems easy, many have tried it. But intense burning in the mouth and throat complicates things. The person coughs and chokes, sometimes inhaling the spice.
There are over 51,000 YouTube videos of people attempting the stunt. Even celebrities, like 16-year-old Maisie Williams of “Game of Thrones” appear on camera coughing a cloud of cinammon. “Why is it so entertaining watching people suffer,” a girl, presumably Williams’ friend, says on the video.
"We wanted to bring this to people's attention," said Dr. Steven Lipshultz, a pediatrics professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine in Florida. "This seems to be an increasing problem, and based on animal studies, there's the potential for lasting effects (on the lungs)."
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Lipshultz and colleagues published a report in the May issue of Pediatrics that at least 30 teenagers across the United States have required medical attention after attempting the stunt in 2012.
Because cinnamon does not break down when it enters the lungs, Lipshultz said, it could potentially cause long-term lung damage.
Poison control centers report the number of calls they receive after teens attempt to swallow cinnamon "has increased dramatically.” There were 222 calls last year, up from 51 in 2011.
"People with asthma or other respiratory conditions are at greater risk of having this result in shortness of breath and trouble breathing," according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.
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A teen in Ypsilanti, Mich., who suffered a collapsed lung started a website called nocinnamonchallenge.com to share her story and encourage others to avoid the stunt.
Dry, loose cinnamon can irritate mucous membranes in the digestive and respiratory tract. If the person throws up, which often occurs, the vomit could be inhaled and cause an infection known as aspiration pneumonia, said Dr. Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist with the Loyola University Health System emergency department.
Unfortunately, Hantsch said "there are many household items that can be abused." She said she knew of at least two children who choked to death attempting the “Chubby Bunny” stunt – the challenge of stuffing as many marshmallows into the mouth as possible and then saying the words “chubby bunny.”