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'Cinnamon Challenge': Doctors warn against viral stunt

April 22, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
In the age of YouTube, it doesn't take long for something as common as cinnamon to be turned into a viral sensation.

The spice that is served with everything from oatmeal to coffee has become the main ingredient of a worldwide stunt called the "Cinnamon Challenge." It calls for swallowing a spoonful of ground cinnamon. The effects are usually coughing, gagging and vomiting.

While many of the cinnamon challengers are laughing in their homemade videos, doctors are not.

"When those kids are choking, they're having shortness of breath and they're really trying to gasp for air," said pediatrician Dr. John Mangone. "Some kids have actually been placed on respirators."

The number of poison control center calls about teens doing the prank "has increased dramatically," from 51 in 2011 to 222 last year, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

Health experts say there are long-term problems caused by the cinnamon challenge. In fact, getting cinnamon into the lungs can cause a lifelong problem.

"When it gets into your lungs, the cinnamon has cellulose, and that's irritating," Mangone said. "So what happens is that scarring that's developing can cause fibrosis, and similar to emphysema."

Mangone says parents should watch the videos with their children and talk about the stunt's dangers.

An Ypsilanti, Mich., teen who was hospitalized for a collapsed lung after trying the cinnamon challenge heartily supports the advice and started her own website to tell teens to "just say no" to the fad.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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