Imagine unrolling a condom and stuffing it up one side of your nose, then plugging the other nostril and inhaling until the long piece of latex slides into your throat. Then you reach back there with your fingers and pull it from your mouth.
Why would someone do that?
Apparently for the same reason young people have dared each other to pour salt in their hands and hold ice until it burns; douse themselves in rubbing alcohol and set themselves on fire; or bite into colorful liquid laundry detergent packets.
It’s a game called the “condom-snorting challenge” and, not unlike other dangerous dares that have swept social media, teenagers have been trying it for years.
“There are all kinds of drugs, and kids are clever, so it’s just really: What are our kids doing? So, that’s what we try to share,” Stephen Enriquez, a state education specialist in San Antonio, told Fox affiliate KABB.
Enriquez visited a school to warn parents and teachers not only about drugs and alcohol but also about these social media challenges, according to the station.
“Because these days our teens are doing everything for likes, views and subscribers,” Enriquez said about such games. “As graphic as it is, we have to show parents because teens are going online looking for challenges and re-creating them.”
Bruce Lee, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, wrote in a column for Forbes that the only thing people should snort is air, with the exception of nasal spray or doctor-prescribed medications.
“The condom could easily get stuck in your nose or your throat, blocking your breathing or causing you to choke,” he wrote.
Lee pointed to two medical case studies involving condom mishaps. A report published in 2004 in the Indian Journal of Chest Diseases and Allied Sciences detailed an “accidental condom inhalation” in which a 27-year-old woman unintentionally sucked a condom down her throat and into her lungs during oral sex. It led to pneumonia and caused the right upper lobe of her lung to collapse.
In another case, outlined in the Journal of Medical Case Reports, a 26-year-old woman inadvertently swallowed a condom and a piece of it traveled to her appendix. It resulted in appendicitis, a condition typically caused when a blockage in the appendix’s lining leads to infection, causing it to swell, according to the Mayo Clinic. When not promptly and properly treated, the appendix can rupture.
The key difference is that these two cases were accidents.
“Even if you manage to successfully pull the condom out through your mouth, inhaling a condom up your nose would be very uncomfortable and potentially quite painful,” Lee wrote. “Would it really be worth all that just to get more likes and views?”
For some, yes. That’s why health experts are warning parents about such social media challenges.
Earlier this year, the “Tide pod challenge” raised concerns as videos circulated on social media showing teenagers biting into the detergent packets, or pretending to cook them in skillets then chewing them up and spewing soap from their mouths.
Unlike dangerous decisions in which the intent is to get high, these social media challenges are considered games that are designed to get attention online.
Dr. Krishna Upadhya, an attending physician at Children's National Health System, said she has never had a patient who has done the condom-snorting challenge, but she would advise others against trying it.
Upadhya, who specializes in adolescent medicine, told The Washington Post that a teenager could unintentionally suck the condom down his or her windpipe, shutting off the airflow and suffocating.
Or, she said, a teen could swallow the condom, creating a blockage in the gastrointestinal tract, which would be considered a surgical emergency. Somebody participating in the challenge may simply discover that he or she has an allergy to the latex or chemicals on the condom, too.
“Teenagers like to try new things,” she said. “They like to take risks and be social. It can be tempting to participate when others are egging you on.”
Upadhya said parents and teachers should talk to children to help them discover “healthier ways to experience new and exciting things.” But she also said that adults should keep things in perspective and avoid “overplaying” or “overexposing” children to dangerous games or social media challenges that may not be that popular anyway.
In fact, over the past five years, U.S. poison control centers have received only one report of a condom inhalation. In 2014, a teenager intentionally inhaled the prophylactic, according to data from the American Association of Poison Control Centers. Most of the 152 incidents involving condoms — 107 cases, to be exact — were related to ingestion, according to the statistics.
The condom-snorting challenge, which dates to at least 2007, gained increased attention in 2013 when a YouTube video circulated online showing a young woman sucking a condom up her nose to Taylor Swift’s “22,” ABC News reported at the time.
As The Post's Abby Ohlheiser wrote this week: “The only thing viral about the condom challenge right now is the moral panic about the idea of teens doing the condom challenge.”
The condom-snorting challenge was thrust into the national spotlight after Enriquez discussed it during a San Antonio school workshop designed to give parents and teachers a glimpse into the things their teens may be seeing online. And it was portrayed in headlines as “every parent’s worst nightmare” and “the latest dangerous social media trend.”
“The word ‘trend’ is the most important aspect of these stories,” said Alex Kasprak, a reporter at Snopes, a fact-checking site that rated the “condom challenge” panic as “mostly false.”
As The Post's Ohlheiser reported, coverage of things like the “condom challenge” panic often begin with a kernel of truth — kids really have done this challenge on YouTube before, and it really is dangerous.
But Kasprak said he is often stunned by “how quickly someone will slap the word ‘trend’ on something.”
To report an incident involving poisoning, call the national hotline at 1-800-222-1222 or text POISON to 797979 to save the number on your phone.
This post, originally published on April 2, has been updated.