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Outliers: Beware the cinnamon challenge

By Modern Healthcare
Posted: April 27, 2013 - 12:01 am ET

And in other culinary danger news, steer clear of the cinnamon challenge. That's the advice from doctors in a new report about a dangerous prank depicted in popular YouTube videos that has led to hospitalizations and a surge in calls to U.S. poison centers.

The fad involves daring someone to swallow a spoonful of ground cinnamon in 60 seconds without water. But the spice is caustic, and trying to gulp it down can cause choking, throat irritation, breathing trouble and even collapsed lungs, according to the report.

Published online recently in Pediatrics, the report said at least 30 teens nationwide needed medical attention after taking the challenge last year. The number of poison control center calls about teens doing the prank “has increased dramatically,” from 51 in 2011 to 222 last year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Thousands of YouTube videos depict kids attempting the challenge, resulting in an “orange burst of dragon breath” spewing out of their mouths and sometimes hysterical laughter from friends watching the stunt, said report co-author Dr. Steven E. Lipshultz, a pediatrics professor at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.

A Ypsilanti, Mich., teen who was hospitalized for a collapsed lung after trying the cinnamon challenge heartily supports the new advice and started her own website—nocinnamonchallenge.com—telling teens to “just say no” to the fad.

Dejah Reed, 16, told the Associated Press she took the challenge four times—the final time was in February last year with a friend who didn't want to try it alone. “I was laughing very hard and I coughed it out and I inhaled it into my lungs,” she said. “I couldn't breathe.” Dejah was hospitalized for four days and went home with an inhaler and said she still has to use it when she gets short of breath from running or talking too fast. Her dad said she had never had asthma or breathing problems before.

Dejah said she had read about the challenge on Facebook and other social networking sites and “thought it would be cool” to try. Now she knows “it's not cool and it's dangerous.”

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