The ‘Cinnamon Challenge’ Is a Dangerous Game

Eating fad can cause choking and long-term damage

spoonful of cinnamon

The “cinnamon challenge” sounds innocent. But this Internet-based competitive eating fad popular with kids can cause them to choke or damage their throat, airway and lungs.

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The challenge is to eat a spoonful of ground cinnamon in under 60 seconds without drinking anything. A new study from University of Miami shows that the stunt is risky and can create long-lasting health problems.

Gagging and choking among dangers

Pediatrician Elaine Schulte, MD, of Cleveland Clinic Children’s Hospital, didn’t take part in the study but stresses that the dangers of the cinnamon challenge are real.

“When you try to swallow a dry substance like cinnamon, you end up potentially aspirating,” Dr. Schulte says. “Not only can you get irritation in the back of your throat, you can actually end up with problems with your lungs because you inhale the substance rather than swallowing it.”

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The University of Miami researchers say in most cases the effects are temporary, but the risk of gagging or choking is one of the biggest concerns.

Dozens of kids needed medical help after stunt

Researchers found that in 2012 more than 30 kids sought medical attention after taking the cinnamon challenge and nearly 200 calls were made to U.S. poison control centers.

Dr. Schulte adds the challenge can cause pulmonary problems. Long-lasting lesions, scarring and inflammation of the airway are also potential effects.

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“If you’re an asthmatic, for instance, and you inhale a dry substance like cinnamon you could go into immediate broncho-spasm,” she says. “You can have issues with active airway disease; you could end up in the emergency room. It’s just not safe.”

Parents urged to counsel children

Kids have been exposed to the cinnamon challenge on the Internet. Parents are urged to counsel them about the risks of taking part — and also to keep an eye on where their kids are going online.

Dr. Schulte says parents can track their kids’ activities on the web and take precautions by setting up blocks and monitoring.