The dangers of the cinnamon challenge

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By Greg Brenn

This past Monday, an article in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that the “Cinnamon Challenge,” a seemingly harmless challenge, can actually send participants to the emergency room.

The journal was sourced in several media outlets in the last several days, including the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times. Deborah Katz from the Boston Globe wrote, “Bottom line: Parents need to instruct their children to stay away from the cinnamon overdose.”

This fad, which has been attempted for years with over 50,000 videos on YouTube, involves swallowing a tablespoon of dry cinnamon in under 60 seconds, without any liquid to dissolve the powder.

The challenge, which seems simple and innocuous, lures in those participants who are unaware of the serious medical consequences associated with consuming excessive amounts of this sanguine-colored spice.

The main risks associated with the Cinnamon Challenge include coughing, choking and the triggering of a gag reflex from the burning sensation in the mouth. Cinnamon is composed of cellulose fibers, which humans have a very limited ability to digest, and the fibers cannot biodegrade or dissolve in the lungs.

While instances of cinnamon inhalation into the lungs are rare, aspiration, also known as “solids going down the wrong pipe,” is common among those who attempt the challenge and could lead to airway inflammation or a more serious medical consequence such as aspiration pneumonia.

Henry Fung ‘15, who attempted the challenge with friends at some time last year explains, “It was a pretty bad idea looking back on it, but it was pretty funny at the time with my friends.”

When recently reading the articles that have come out in the major news outlets, Fung full-heartedly believes that he will not attempt the challenge again.

The cinnamon fibers can also contribute to allergic and irritant reactions, as well as pose greater risks for those prone to asthma attacks or those with a broncho-pulmonary disease.

Although this challenge may not be occurring on a daily basis in college dormitories as students are finding other ways to entertain themselves, these new medical developments can be used as guidelines for teens and college students to analyze risks versus rewards when participating in such precarious pranks.

 

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