News, Culture & Society

Trendy ‘dragon’s breath’ snacks can leave teenagers with life-threatening liquid nitrogen ice burns

Ice cream, cereals, cocktails and especially ‘dragon’s breath’ snacks popular with teenagers can cause skin and internal organ damage, the FDA warned Thursday.

Liquid nitrogen is used to quickly cool or freeze everything from computers to foods and to remove warts and skin tags. 

Most recently, novelty snacks and drinks that have liquid nitrogen added to them just before consumption to create the ‘dragon’s breath’ effect have gained popularity with teenagers.  

Nitrogen is not toxic and is safe to use to preserve food, but because it is extremely cold, the substance is extremely cold (-320F or colder) and can freeze skin and damage the throat and stomach, the Food and Drug Administration warns.  

Trendy snacks made with liquid nitrogen and create the ‘dragon’s breath’ effect have gone viral on social media, but the FDA is warning that they can cause ice burns and tissue damage (file) 

‘Dragon’s breath’ – or ‘angel’s breath’ – snacks mostly come in the form of ice cream or cereal puffs that are frozen with liquid nitrogen. 

When they are chewed, liquid nitrogen bursts out of pores in the snacks, creating the visual effect that smoke is emanating from your mouth. 

Shops and kiosks selling the snacks have cropped up in malls and shopping centers across the country and YouTube and Instagram are teeming with videos of adults, teenagers and children exhaling the ‘smoke.’ 

But in recent months, some people have posted warnings about the snacks too. 

In order for nitrogen – naturally a gas in our atmosphere – to become a liquid, it has to reach temperatures hundreds of degrees below zero.  

For comparison, your freezer at home is just zero degrees Fahrenheit, and the lowest temperature ever recorded in Antarctica was -130 degrees Fahrenheit. 

That’s still nearly 200 degrees warmer than liquid nitrogen is on average. 

Contact with something that cold can cause a rapid ice burn, that freezes the water in your own skin cells and constricts the blood vessels that feed them. 

These changes can cause skin cells to die off and cause painful, sometimes permanent damage to them. 

Suffolk County in New York has already banned the frozen puffs  

Suffolk County in New York has already banned the frozen puffs  

As you might imagine, extreme cold can have similar effects on internal tissues as well, damaging the esophagus and lungs of people eating smoky balls of liquid nitrogen. 

One man posted a video of himself eating two of the so-called ‘nitro puffs,’ and later showed that they had burned the inside of his mouth. 

A Florida mother warned other parents to keep their kids away from the snacks after her son had a severe asthma attack after eating them. 

‘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. There has also been a report of difficulty breathing after inhaling the vapor released by liquid nitrogen when added immediately before consumption,’ the agency warned. 

It is unclear exactly how many people have sustained nitrogen-related injuries, but the treats have even been banned in Suffolk County, New York.  

‘This safety alert advises consumers to avoid eating, drinking, or handling foods prepared using liquid nitrogen at point of sale and immediately before consumption, due to risk of injury,’ the FDA said.