4-year-old dies after inhaling cinnamon in spice cabinet
A child out of sight for just a moment with devastating consequences is one of a parent's worst nightmares. Even our own homes can be dangerous, as this Kentucky mom knows. Brianna Rader's 4-year-old son, Matthew, liked to climb, and one day found his way into the spice cabinet.
Before his mother could intervene, Matthew was into the cinnamon. "He started choking, and then it was like he was having a seizure. He just collapsed," Rader said in an interview with WLEX. Matthew was rushed to the hospital, but it was too late; the boy was pronounced dead within 90 minutes.
Rader speaks to the press about her personal tragedy "to let people know that cinnamon can kill. All these kids out doing the 'cinnamon challenge,' they don't think about the fact that it can hurt them."
The "cinnamon challenge" is when someone tries to eat a spoonful of cinnamon all at once without water. It's very difficult -- nearly impossible -- to do, and the person usually coughs out the cinnamon in an orange-red cloud of "dragon breath." A few years ago it suddenly became popular for teens to post videos to YouTube showing people failing the challenge.
Most of these videos end with the person coughing and spluttering while his friends laugh hysterically, but not every cinnamon challenge ends in laughter. The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported 51 calls related to cinnamon intake in 2011; that number jumped to 222 calls in 2012, reports CBS News.
The problem with cinnamon is the cellulose fibers -- tree bark -- that it's made of. Because of the burning nature of the spice that doesn't break down in our saliva, a choking reflex kicks in and results in the "dragon breath" cough. The real problem comes next: when the person instinctively draws in a large, quick breath after coughing, they inhale the cinnamon particles which "neither dissolve nor biodegrade in the lungs," as concluded in a study published in Pediatrics in 2013.
The immediate problems that can be caused by cinnamon inhalation are throat irritation, breathing trouble, collapsed lungs, and death.
Long-term problems can also be caused by caustic cinnamon particles in the lungs -- the CBS News article relates the story of Dejah Reed, a Michigan teen still using an inhaler more than a year after suffering a collapsed lung from doing the cinnamon challenge. Reed had had no previous lung problems and had done the challenge three times before with no complication, but now needs the inhaler if she even talks too fast.
In Matthew Rader's case, it took only a moment of curiosity in a spice cabinet for the cinnamon powder to do lethal damage. His mother hopes that his death will serve as a demonstration of just how easy it is to inhale cinnamon powder, with fatal results.