Lasting Damage of the Cinnamon Challenge
Teens are often looking for a new way to get high. Many look for easy-to-access substances because getting a hold of alcohol and illegal drugs is not always easy. Sometimes this means that teens turn to household chemicals to inhale for a high. Other times it means they drink cough syrup or take over-the-counter cold tablets in large doses. Sometimes it even means trying something that most adults would find bizarre. In the case of cinnamon, it is not even to get a high, simply a challenge or a dare to try.
The cinnamon challenge burst onto the scene in 2012 with viral videos and social media pages describing a dare that involves eating a tablespoonful of dried cinnamon in a certain time frame. As you can probably imagine, downing that much cinnamon in a minute or so, without any water, is not easy. The powder not only coats the mouth and throat, making it difficult to swallow, it also causes inflammation and a burning sensation in the tissues of the mouth, throat and nose. The cinnamon challenge is putting teens in the hospital, but now doctors are saying that it may even cause lasting damage.
Trips to the ER
The cinnamon challenge is a prank or a dare that teens do to impress their friends—because they are bored, because they want to experience something new and exciting, or for a variety of other reasons that are hard for adults to imagine. We are not imagining its popularity, though. In 2012, over 50,000 videos on the subject showed up online. The videos show teens trying the dare, laughing, and then gagging and coughing as they attempt to swallow the spoonful of spice.
The so-called challenge has sent numerous teens to the emergency room and resulted in hundreds of calls to poison control centers. In just the first three months of 2012, over 100 calls were placed to the members of the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Many of those calls involved incidents that required immediate medical care.
The danger of the cinnamon challenge comes from getting the spice into the lungs. While trying to swallow the powder, it is easy to also inhale it. A substance in cinnamon called cellulose causes it to stick to the inside of the lungs. With a coating of cinnamon on the lungs, it becomes very difficult for oxygen and carbon dioxide to be exchanged in the usual routine of breathing. This can result in the body being deprived of oxygen.
Teens can end up in the emergency room with a short-term problem from inhaling and swallowing cinnamon. In addition to the coating of the inside of the lungs, teens often choke on the powder and struggle to breathe. They also can vomit and cause irritation and damage to their throats, mouths, and lungs.
Fortunately for most teens the damage caused by the cinnamon challenge is temporary. In some cases, however, doctors are finding that the cinnamon can cause longer-term issues with the lungs and breathing. This is especially true in teens with asthma or other breathing issues. The cellulose that causes the cinnamon to stick in the lungs does not break down easily or quickly, so the caustic cinnamon oil can stay in place for a long time, causing damage to the lungs.
When the cinnamon is in the lungs for a long time, it can cause a variety of problems. The first concern is just the inflammation and irritation it produces. This can become a chronic, or recurring, condition. The teen with lasting damage from the cinnamon may also get scarring in the lungs, which is called pulmonary fibrosis. This is very similar to emphysema, a condition seem mostly in older people and chronic smokers.
To prevent the kind of temporary and long-term damage that the cinnamon challenge has on teens, young people, and their parents, must be educated. Teens see this stunt as a painful and uncomfortable dare, but most do not realize the very real dangers associated with it. Parents must be aware that this is happening among teens and not assume that their child will not do it. Have a conversation with your children to avoid a tragedy in your family.