Students advised to pass on cinnamon challenge

Sarah Bryden, health teacher at Ledyard Middle School, speaks to students Friday about the potential dangers of taking what is known as the cinnamon challenge, which has become a nationwide fad.
Sarah Bryden, health teacher at Ledyard Middle School, speaks to students Friday about the potential dangers of taking what is known as the cinnamon challenge, which has become a nationwide fad. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo

Ledyard - A potentially dangerous fad - swallowing a teaspoon of cinnamon - that is sweeping the country has caught the attention of local students and educators.

Three parents contacted middle school Principal Joseph Chella on Thursday to tell him that some middle school students were talking on Facebook about taking the cinnamon challenge.

Thousands of videos online show people of all ages dumping a teaspoon of cinnamon into their mouths. To win the challenge, a person must swallow the cinnamon in less than a minute.

But medical professionals warn that the practice can be dangerous.

"If you tend to be someone who is allergic and prone to sensitivities around perfumes or other strongly scented things, then inhaling cinnamon could surely set off an asthma attack or cause a shutdown of the lungs," Dr. Robert J. Keltner Jr. of Southeastern Pulmonary Associates said Friday.

"A death sure could happen. Anytime you're dealing with a severe asthma attack caused by a sudden exposure, there's always a potential for asphyxia," Keltner said.

Middle school health teacher Sarah Bryden spent the day explaining the dangers to students. The school has sent a letter home to parents and has posted a link on its website.

"We're trying to be proactive, not panicky about this situation, but just proactive in the terms that this can have serious, lasting health effects on your body," Chella said Friday.

About 15 eighth-grade students raised their hands when Bryden asked if they had heard of the cinnamon challenge. Then, holding a jar of cinnamon, Bryden explained to the students how a simple cooking staple could become a severe hazard.

"Cinnamon causes the saliva to dry up in your mouth so you're not able to swallow," she said. "When someone tries to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon, they cough, choke, gag or maybe even throw up. It can cause your throat to swell, making it even harder to breathe, and can even cause blisters in your mouth."

Bryden said when a person chokes on cinnamon, it could cause respiratory failure, cause lungs to collapse and potentially cause that person to be put on a ventilator in the hospital.

"Who would do something that stupid?" one student asked.

Bryden said there are no home remedies to remove the cinnamon from a person's lungs. "Not even water," she said. "It will not help."

Experimental food fads like the cinnamon challenge are popular among young students and adults. Another well-known fad is the milk challenge, in which the challenger must drink a gallon of milk in less than 60 seconds and not vomit for an hour.

Challenges like these have made their way through middle schools and high schools for decades, but poison control centers, school administrators and doctors are warning students not to take part in this one.

A freshman girl at Huron High School was hospitalized last month after attempting the challenge, according to AnnArbor.com, a digital media company serving Ann Arbor and Washtenaw County, Mich. That student was one of four involved in cinnamon challenge incidents in southeast Michigan, according to the Children's Hospital of Michigan Regional Poison Control Center.

In a YouTube video that Bryden showed the students on Friday, a young girl attempts to swallow a teaspoon of cinnamon. For a few seconds it seems as though all is well, then suddenly her face turns pale, her mouth falls open and she's gasping for air, flailing her arms.

The students were silent as they watched the video. One shook her head.

"You only have one body and one life. Don't waste it on something like this," Bryden said.

Videos of young people who have attempted the challenge are posted on the Cinnamon Challenge Facebook page. One warns against attempting the challenge.

"I really hope I don't die," she says before placing the cinnamon in her mouth. She immediately goes into a coughing fit and leaves the camera view. A minute later, she reappears and says, "I have tears coming out of my eyes, I am dead. That really hurt and I couldn't breathe. I don't recommend people trying that because it's really scary and I still can't cough because there's still cinnamon in my throat."

Chella said students might "think it's kind of a cool thing to try, and we want to let them know that kids are being rushed to the hospital in their attempts to be cool."

j.hanckel@theday.com

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