The Cinnamon Challenge: A Spoonful May Not Be So Innocent

Cinnamon Challenge, National Poison Control
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Always in search of something fun to do, teens for a few years have dared one another to perform a stunt using the baking spice cinnamon and post videos on You Tube and Facebook. It’s called “The Cinnamon Challenge” and, while it may seem like no big deal, it can potentially be dangerous.

The Challenge begins with a teen being dared to swallow a spoonful of powdered or ground cinnamon without drinking water. The cinnamon coats and dries the mouth and throat, causing gagging, coughing, vomiting, choking, and throat irritation. Eating cinnamon can also cause nausea and abdominal cramps. Additionally, there is the potential for unintentionally breathing the spice into the lungs, risking pneumonia.

Teens with asthma or other respiratory conditions are at greater risk for respiratory distress, including shortness of breath.

Experts at America’s poison centers are warning parents and teens about these risks. In 2011, poison centers received 51 calls about exposure to cinnamon. In the first three months of 2012, 122 calls about intentional misuse or abuse were reported with 30 of those teens requiring medical evaluation.

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Last week, a Michigan teen nearly died from the Cinnamon Challenge. It was her first time trying the stunt. She remained hospitalized for four days.

At the Banner Poison Control Center in Phoenix, Dr. Daniel Brooks says that they have had several calls regarding students aged 12 to 15 coming from school nurses, meaning that the kids are doing the challenge on school grounds.

“Although cinnamon is a common flavoring, swallowing a spoonful may result in unpleasant effects that can pose a health risk,” said Alvin C. Bronstein MD FACEP, the medical director for the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center.

“Unfortunately, videos on the Internet are helping to spread this risky activity among teens. We urge parents and caregivers to talk to their teens about the cinnamon challenge, explaining that what may seem like a silly game can have serious health consequences.”

The American Association of Poison Control Centers and the nation’s 57 poison centers are committed to safeguarding the health and well-being of every American through poison prevention and free, confidential, expert medical services. March 18 to 24th marked the 50th anniversary for National Poison Prevention Week.

Although cinnamon itself is not a poison, any ingested material has the potential to cause harm. Even if you are unsure that your situation is an emergency, call your local poison center at 1-800-222-1222 for guidance.

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