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Teen Health

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Cinnamon Stunt Can Have Serious Lung Effects

Researchers warn that highly cited kids' 'challenge' can land them in the ER


Late last year, ER doctors at the Loyola University Health System in Maywood, Ill., saw about a dozen 9-year-olds who'd tried the stunt.

Dry, loose cinnamon can burn and irritate the mucous membranes that line the digestive and respiratory tracts, including the lungs. One concern is that the powder will be inhaled into the lungs, said Dr. Christina Hantsch, a toxicologist with the Loyola emergency department.

Another worry is that, if a challenge taker throws up -- as they often do -- vomit will be inhaled back into lungs, Hantsch added. That could lead to inflammation and infection known as aspiration pneumonia.

Lipshultz said the jump in calls to poison control centers in 2012 coincided with the surge in Cinnamon Challenge videos on YouTube. And the number of Google hits on the topic rose from 0.2 million in 2009 to 2.4 million in the first half of 2012.

Plus, it's not only teenagers who are flaunting their encounters with the Cinnamon Challenge. Celebrities and even politicians have posted their own videos, both Lipshultz and Hantsch pointed out.

"And then if their peers start doing it, too, kids feel social pressure to try it," Lipshultz said.

What can parents do, short of locking up the spice rack? Hantsch suggested parents pay attention to what their kids are viewing online, and talk with them about the potential dangers of this seemingly harmless stunt.

Lipshultz agreed. If kids know there are serious risks, they might be dissuaded. "Our hope is that if they have the information, they'll make smarter decisions," he said.

Cinnamon is not the only spice of abuse, however. Ground nutmeg -- when snorted, smoked or eaten in large amounts -- can create a marijuana-like high, Hantsch noted.

Unfortunately, she added, "there are many household items that can be abused."

Those range from glue to hand sanitizers to aerosol cooking sprays -- and even marshmallows. A challenge popular with kids, Hantsch said, is the "Chubby Bunny," where you shove as many marshmallows into your mouth as possible, then try to say the words "chubby bunny."

At least two children have choked to death trying the stunt, she added.

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