'Salt and ice' another dangerous challenge attracting kids

Published: Monday, July 2 2012 4:51 p.m. MDT

A new teen fad called "the salt and ice challenge" is drawing crowds on social networking sites and YouTube. But like other teen "challenges," it has proven to be dangerous. And health-care experts are telling parents to talk to their kids about the risks.

In Pittsburgh, a 12-year-old boy will spend the summer recovering as a result of having a large cross burned into his back by his twin brother and a pal as part of this newest challenge, according to the Post-Gazette. He ended up in the West Penn Burn Center for treatment.

For the challenge, tweens and teens put salt on their skin and then press ice into it to see who can tolerate the pain the longest. The longer the ice is pressed into the salt, the more serious the injury. CBS Pittsburgh noted that when salt comes in contact with ice, the freezing point of the ice is lowered as the salt dissolves. And that's a process that borrows energy from what is close by. In the case of this teen stunt, what is nearby is human flesh, so the energy is pulled from skin and "you get a burn similar to frostbite."

"The injury is similar to frostbite that can result in mild cold injury but it also could increase in severity based on the time the ice is applied," Dr. Ariel Aballay, director of the burn center, told the Post-Gazette. "The longer, the more serious the injury. This patient went on for a few minutes, but there have been cases that went on for six or seven minutes that resulted in third-degree injuries."

In the case of the unnamed twin, the Post-Gazette said he received "such severe blistering burns that he needed hospital treatment and will be recovering for the rest of the summer." The treatment includes medications and applying lotion four times daily for months. He won't be allowed to swim or go outside without his shirt on and any sweat must be immediately wiped off his skin. And then, if all goes will, he will eventually heal without permanet scars.

In some reported incidents, scars that result may be permanent.

The parents in this incident released a statement through the the West Penn Allegheny Health System that said in part, "We want teenagers and the general public to know that 'the salt and ice challenge' is extremely dangerous. Videos on YouTube, Facebook and other social media do not accurately show the terrible injuries that can result. We are grateful that our son is recovering and hope that sharing his story will stop other young people from attempting this stunt."

The release noted that two months before the incident, school authorities in Pittsburgh had warned parents that the fad was becoming very popular and had sent letter to parents warning of risks.

Youths have been competing with odd and sometimes dangerous challenges for some time. Who hasn't heard of swallowing a goldfish. Another recent "trick," popularly called "the cinnamon challenge," has also in some instances proven dangerous.

In the cinnamon challenge, youths try to swallow a tablespoon of cinnamon without water. In at least one case, the individual who attempted it suffered a collapsed lung and there have been reports of complications in people with asthma, among others. It was the subject of a warning from the American Association of Poison Control Centers.

The organization told MSNBC.com that from January to March poison centers answered 139 calls about teens and cinnamon and 30 of them required medical evaluation. Of the total number, 122 were "intentional abuse or misuse." Last year, they answered 51 calls about cinnamon exposure.

Dr. Russell Migita, clinical director of emergency services at Seattle Children's Hospital, said the practice could irritate lungs if it was inhaled and that subsequent coughing could lead to issues from inflammation and fluid in the lungs to a lung collapse.

Others cite side effects including nausea and vomiting or allergies.

A different dare that's been around for a couple of years, "the Skittles challenge," involves stuffing a whole bag of the colorful candies in your mouth at once and then trying to eat them. That poses a real choking danger, according to health officials.

There are reportedly more than 30,000 "cinnamon challenges" videos on YouTube and more than 9,000 "salt and ice" challenges shown, along with videos that warn of the associated risks, as well.

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