CLEVELAND - It seems like a harmless dare, but the "cinnamon challenge" can lead to serious health problems, according to medical experts.
The cinnamon challenge dares people to swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in 60 seconds without water. The challenge has gone viral. There are dozens of videos posted on YouTube and Facebook showing people, mostly teens, coughing, choking and gagging on cinnamon. NewsChannel5 investigators found several videos recorded and posted from northeast Ohio, including videos from Lorain, Akron and Cleveland.
"It looks like it's a fun thing to do, but like many things, you are not aware of the hidden dangers it could possess," said Dr. Greg Omler, a pediatric pulmonologist at Akron Children's Hospital.
"Cinnamon is a product of the bark of a plant. And the bark has cellulose in it, and that cellulose, in and of itself, can cause some damage to the airways," he said.
Dr. Omler also said ingesting an excess amount of cinnamon can also causes burns to the linings of the mouth and the throat. It can also lead to pneumonia.
"When you first think about it, it seems like, 'How could that happen? It's cinnamon, you know, it can't do any harm.' But it can cause swelling of the lining of the lungs and any time you get swelling, it then blocks the removal of mucous from the lungs and that can then lead to pneumonia," he said.
Dejah Reed learned the dangers of the challenge the hard way. The Ann Arbor, Michigan teen was hospitalized for four days after she tried the cinnamon challenge in February.
"I was laughing and it got caught in my throat. I got dizzy and I just couldn't breathe at all. And, like, it almost killed me," said Reed. Reed is not the only person who needed medical help after trying the challenge.
There were 139 calls to poison control centers in the United States between Jan. 1 and March 31, 2012, according to the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Thirty of the callers required medical attention.
Dr. Omler said anyone thinking about trying the cinnamon challenge should consider the serious risks.
"It's nearly impossible to do that so why risk yourself to do something that you're not going to be able to do anyway?" he said.
"To see or know cinnamon can damage my lungs kind of sucks. It's like finding out Santa Claus isn't real," said DJ Steph Floss. Floss works for the Cleveland hip hop radio station 107.9. He tried the challenge after seeing a friend try the dare last January. "My whole mouth was just very, very dry. It was like swallowing a loaf of bread, basically," he said.
Unlike the people in most of the videos on YouTube, Floss was able to complete the dare. However, after learning about the dangers of the cinnamon challenge, Floss said he would not attempt the challenge again.
"I love my life and I love my health so I probably wouldn't do it again," he said.
NewsChannel5 investigators checked with local hospitals. So far, none have taken reports of people being treated for adverse effects from the cinnamon challenge.
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