It seems liquid nitrogen is everywhere lately—chances are you've seen it added to snacks and drinks at the mall, your neighborhood sweet shop, a carnival kiosk, or even trendy local bars.
Though it may look cool on Instagram, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently warned that food and beverage products with liquid nitrogen added at the point of sale—in particular, the popular desserts commonly marketed as "Dragon's Breath," "Heaven's Breath," "nitro puff" and more—can cause serious injury and harm to your health.
"The FDA has become aware of severe—and in some cases, life-threatening—injuries, such as damage to skin and internal organs caused by liquid nitrogen still present in the food or drink," the alert states. Reports have documented difficulty breathing after inhaling the vapor, and injuries to skin and internal organs from handling or eating these products.
Whether the fog rises up from colorful flakes of cereal or steamy puffs of cheese, anything emitting the misty liquid nitrogen vapor can cause serious damage to skin and internal organs, the FDA says. Those with asthma are at increased risk, with the potential for serious breathing difficulties when inhaling the vapor these foods and drinks release.
Perhaps most troubling is that the trendiest of these dangerous snacks—the Dragon's Breath cereal that sends a dragon-like smoke out of the nose and mouth when you eat it (hence the name)—is being marketed primarily to children, with little being said about the risks of serious burns and other potential health concerns.
"Liquid nitrogen destroys the delicate lining of the lungs' airways," said Norman Edelman, M.D., American Lung Association Senior Scientific Advisor. "It is especially dangerous for people with asthma. We must teach our children that the only things they should ever breathe in are prescribed medications and pure clean air."
She wrote that her son, Johnny, started coughing shortly after trying a Dragon's Breath cereal treat at the mall and eventually couldn't breathe. Even worse, Johnny's quick-relief inhaler had been left at home, where his mom said it typically stayed except for high-risk activities and outings. Fortunately, Johnny received medical treatment in time to save his life—but still, his mom wonders how much of this could have been prevented if she had known about the risks of Dragon's Breath.
"PLEASE, if you know someone that has even just a mild case of asthma, do NOT let them have this snack," she implores readers. "It did not occur to me that this food could have this effect. As a result, my son could have died. Please don't make the same mistake I did."
Thrill-seekers determined to try the snack anyway are urged to use extreme caution: "Don't touch the liquid in the cup, use a utensil to pick up the snack, let the nitrogen evaporate and eat slowly," writes the Washington Post.
Our advice? Just say no. Your lungs will thank you.
Have you experienced an injury from handling or eating Dragon's Breath or similar food items? The FDA recommends first consulting your healthcare provider and then considering reporting your experience to MedWatch.
For more information and resources on living with asthma, visit Lung.org/asthma.