Medical controversies: Internet challenges

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We live in an interesting time. A time in which all the information you would ever need is just a touch away. Most of the things you could come up with have been done before, and if you think you are good at something there is some 8-year-old on the other side of the world that does it better. Most people, like me, can just accept this fact and not let it ruin the fun.However,  others have to push the boundaries of what is ‘fun’, coming up with the weirdest ideas and insane challenges. And if you think people are sane enough to use common sense in assessing whether to participate or not, oh boy you are in for a ride. Here are some of the most dangerous challenges of the past few years that have gone viral on social media.


The tide pod challenge 


Do you remember this one? We are going all the way back to 2017, when memes were still obscure humour and viral videos were only  shared through YouTube and Facebook. You know, when your-momma-jokes were still funny. This story starts off on a reddit page called intrusivethoughts where someone posted an image of a tide pod, looking as colorful as ever, daring the reader to eat it. Although intended as a joke, this was one of the factors that set off a chain of events that would lead to the poisoning of dozens of children. Even though the challenge started to go viral in 2018, the risks of eating tide pods were already shown as far as 8 years ago. In 2012-2013 there was an average of one child admitted to the hospital a day for ingestion of a laundry pod in the US. Swallowing a small bit of laundry detergent is not bad at all, besides maybe resulting in some stomach ache. But these pods contain highly concentrated detergents that are poisonous. If the bitter taste is not enough to make you vomit, the bleach and chemicals will. Reports have shown symptoms like vomiting, foaming, lethargy and burns of the esophagus. Foaming can become so bad that aspiration occurs, and soon enough, the vomiting becomes the least of your problems. 


Let’s go back a bit. In 2012-2013 most of these cases were really young children. These colorful pods looked like candy, so when kept within reach children would eat these and accidentally poison themselves.Because of this, angry parents blamed the manufacturer and pressured them to change the way laundry pods look and taste. To avoid further incidents and to clear their name, many companies did make drastic changes to the way they distribute their laundry pods. Extra warnings were listed, colors were changed, a bitter taste was added and advice was given on what to do if you accidentally swallowed a tide pod. Having made these extensive efforts to prevent further laundry pod-related trauma, cases went down and another major health hazard was resolved. If only it would have lasted.


This brings us to 2018, the birth year of the ‘Tide Pod Challenge’. Hundreds of teenagers all over the internet shared videos of eating a tide pod and daring their friends to do the same. People made videos of themselves gagging on a tide pod, some people vomiting or choking. But apparently these awful videos weren’t appalling enough, as popularity of the challenge was rising. And as they do with any other major internet scandal, platforms like YouTube and Facebook only knew one way to deal with this: censorship. Videos depicting or linked to the challenge were deleted in the hopes of letting the hype ‘die out’.  In the end it even required American football star Rob Gronkowski to collaborate with Tide in making a campaign urging people to not participate in the challenge. In conclusion, never eat anything that is made to clean your dirty undies, even if your friends dare you to. 


Benadryl challenge


As with many of these challenges, they seem to be based on wanting to feel like you belong. Or maybe the fear of not fitting in. If your friends do it, why shouldn’t you? And if something will get you a lot of views/likes/upvotes etc., what is holding you back? A lot of these challenges arise from the need to keep moving the line between what’s normal and what’s not. Imagine being a YouTuber, and your channel revolves around gaming. In order to stay relevant you mainly need to play new games, keeping up with current trends. But what if the main purpose of your channel is to create drama or just to look interesting? To stay relevant, you’ll have to keep pushing the boundaries, doing more insane things. 


Anyhow, the next challenge revolves around a drug that is not even available in the Netherlands due to it’s nasty side effects: Benadryl. Diphenhydramine, the more scientific name with the other being the brand, is a powerful antihistamine drug. It is used in the treatment of atopic diseases like eczema or allergic rhinitis, but also to make you sleepy. It can even be used to reduce tremor in Parkinsonism. The versatility of this drug all has to do with the effects of Diphenhydramine on the H1 and cholinergic receptors in your body. Histamine is well known to cause your everyday allergic reaction: itching, flushing and a runny nose amongst others. However, histamine also has effects on the brain. Histamine is not only used in wakefulness and cognition, but also as an anticonvulsant. So you can imagine that taking too much Benadryl will cause sleepiness, hallucinations and seizures. But if that wasn’t bad enough, Diphenhydramine also has a very similar structure to acetylcholine. In really high doses, diphenhydramine will therefore also interact with the cholinergic system causing impaired peristalsis, ventricular fibrillation and impaired urine production. All in all, this forms a recipe for disaster if taken irresponsibly . And that is exactly what happened. 


Benadryl is already known for its recreational use and addiction. Many people use it for inducing hallucinations; basically tripping on allergy medicine. What’s even worse, and one of the causes of the problem, is that this dangerous drug is available over the counter in the US. The challenge appeared on TikTok in the early months of 2020. Teens dared each other to drink a bottle of Benadryl and then film themselves while tripping. This led to numerous cases of hospitalization. And if that wasn’t bad enough, a 15 year-old girl from Oklahoma died participating in the challenge. 


Other NOTeworthy challenges


The Cinnamon Challenge – This one has been around for a while. It originated in around 2012, but became very popular in 2014-2016. Even nowadays new videos are made in which people eat a whole tablespoon of cinnamon. The challenging part is to swallow it without using any water, because what happens is that the cinnamon will absorb all the water in your mouth causing intense dryness and irritation. This hardly ever leads to any serious complications, but when it does, things turn bad really fast. A 13-year-old boy in the Netherlands ended up in a coma after accidentally inhaling the cinnamon. Cinnamon causes acute inflammation and damages the respiratory epithelium. In asthma patients, this can trigger an acute asthma attack which can be life threatening.


The Salt and Ice Challenge – Although not deadly, this challenge can cause serious disfigurement. The challenge involves putting a mixture of salt and water on your skin, followed by applying ice on it. Soon enough you’ll feel intense pain and the challenge is to hold the ice on as long as possible. What’s actually happening is that the mixture of salt/ice/water creates a unique chemical reaction, causing the temperature of the ice to become as low as -28 degrees Celsius. This leads to acute full-thickness frost burn and can leave a permanent scar.


Having gone through all these challenges, I hope I have reminded you that just because everyone does something, it does not mean you have to do it too. Sacrificing your own health for a brief moment of fame is not worth the risk. The fame might feel like quite the accomplishment, but remember: the brightest stars burn out the fastest.