Cinnamon Challenge Dangers and Death Risk

Michele Meleen
Medical contributions by Dr. Cory Showalter
Spoonful of cinnamon powder

The Cinnamon Challenge is one of many dangerous dares that spread like wildfire thanks to social media. Despite the fact that many well-known people have attempted the challenge and survived, this is a dangerous act that can make you sick.

What Is the Cinnamon Challenge?

This viral video dare reached the height of popularity in 2012 and 2013 but is still popular with videos being uploaded in 2018. It involves a person attempting to ingest a spoonful of ground cinnamon in under one minute without drinking anything. People ages 13 to 24 are most likely to watch cinnamon challenge videos on YouTube where there are more than 50,000 to choose from.

Cinnamon Challenge Death Risk

A study published in the Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reports the US American Association of Poison Control Centers received about 180 calls related to the challenge in the first half of 2102 with about 20 percent requiring medical attention. There are no documented cases of people dying from the cinnamon challenge. However, there is one report of a 13-year-old boy who ended up in a coma as a result of the challenge and the case of a 4-year-old boy who died from ingesting a large amount of cinnamon on accident.

Cinnamon Challenge Dangers

Riley Children's Health Level 1 Trauma Center and Emergency Department Director, and Professor of Emergency Medicine, Dr. Cory Showalter advises people "should just not do it." There are real health risks associated with this dare and the few minutes of fame aren't worth it.

The Science of Cinnamon Consumption

Cinnamon is made up of cellulose which can't properly break down in the body. When you consume small amounts, your body can handle it, but in large amounts, it gets trapped in your mouth, throat, and lungs. Your lungs were not built to hold food, so any foreign object even as small as ground cinnamon particles cause problems.

Immediate Physical Reactions

When a person puts that spoonful of cinnamon in their mouth, they will experience a few immediate reactions. Dr. Showalter warns these can be exacerbated when done in a group setting because when "someone makes you laugh when you put the cinnamon in your mouth you're more likely to inhale it."

  • Inability to swallow
  • Panic
  • Coughing
  • Choking
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Burning sensation in the mouth

Medical Concerns Caused by the Challenge

The biggest medical concerns with the Cinnamon Challenge are aspiration and airway blockage. Dr. Showalter shares, "When your mouth is full and you can't swallow the cinnamon, it goes straight to the lungs."

Aspiration Into the Lungs

Aspiration is when food particles "go down the wrong pipe" and head to your lungs. "If you aspirate, it is truly an emergency," says Dr. Showalter. These particles in your lungs can lead to shortness of breath and a dangerous inflammatory response that could lead to pneumonia. Because the cinnamon particles are incredibly small, they have the potential to move even further into your lungs. A serious inflammatory response could lead to a life-threatening infection.

Airway Blockage

If the cinnamon forms a clump, it could block your airway making it difficult or impossible for you to breathe. Because the cinnamon clump is made of fine particles, it may be difficult to remove with standard first aid procedures for choking. If this happens, you could die immediately before help could ever arrive.

Panic and Anxiety

The person who attempts the challenge might experience heightened levels of anxiety as they feel like they can't swallow or breathe. Dr. Showalter says parents of kids who attempt the challenge may also feel anxiety because their child is now "declaring themselves as a high-risk person" willing to participate in dumb and dangerous acts.

Chemical Burn in the Mouth

When the cinnamon sits in your mouth for a long time, it could cause a minor chemical burn. While it won't kill you, it could make eating uncomfortable for a few days.

Bowel Discomfort

What goes in your body also comes out. People who swallow a large amount of cinnamon are likely to feel some discomfort when the cinnamon comes out in their bowel movement the next day.

When to Seek Medical Attention

"If you had a significant aspiration, you're gonna know it," says Dr. Showalter. In this case, you should definitely call 911. If you experience shortness of breath, significant pain, or can't stop coughing in the hours or days after your challenge attempt, you should seek medical attention. The response could be delayed depending on your specific circumstances.

More Than a Harmless Prank

Viral tasks and dares like the Cinnamon Challenge seem harmless because of their popularity, but they come with real health risks. You won't gain anything from attempting the challenge, but you could lose everything.

Cinnamon Challenge Dangers and Death Risk