Racheal McKenny was with her family at the Avenues Mall in Jacksonville, Florida, last week when they came across a really cool (figuratively and literally) treat. The dessert cereal snack was infused with liquid nitrogen, which makes vapor come out of your nose and mouth like, well, a dragon, hence the name: "Dragon's Breath."
McKenny's son, Johnny, wanted to try it—because who could resist the opportunity to look like a dragon? So the St. Augustine, Florida, family got one to split between Johnny and his sister.
"They had fun and it seemed harmless enough," the mom wrote on Facebook after things took a wrong turn. She didn't realize that the liquid nitrogen vapors would be dangerous for her son, who has asthma. Johnny has had a prescription inhaler for five years, but he rarely uses it. McKenny usually keeps it in her bag when they do something physical. She didn't even think to bring it with them when they went to the mall.
"About 10 minutes into the ride home, Johnny started an occasional cough. Around 20 minutes in, the cough became really consistent. By the time we passed the Palencia subdivision, he was coughing so bad that he was having trouble catching his breath. We knew he couldn’t breathe, and we knew that we couldn’t get him to the hospital in time," McKenny wrote.
Luckily, the fast-thinking dad, John, knew there was a fire station just down the road. The EMTs there immediately started Johnny on an Albuterol treatment and hooked him up to an IV while preparing him for transport to a local hospital.
By the time they got to the hospital, Johnny needed a shot of epinephrine (the nebulizer wasn't effective) and had a second breathing treatment and was administered a steroid.
Thankfully, he's is doing well now—though he'll be on steroids for the next few days.
For McKenny, the incident was too close for comfort, and she's hoping more people, especially those with asthma, realize the dangers of the trendy food.
"PLEASE, if you know someone that has even just a mild case of asthma, do NOT let them have this snack," she wrote. "I should have known better, but 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."
The vendor at the mall quickly updated the signs to include an allergy and asthma warning.
Further down in Florida, the folks at Subzero Nitrogen Ice Cream in Parkland also added a new disclaimer after hearing about McKenny's incident.
“We’ve sold thousands of them since January and we never had any issue," owner Ron Daranty told ABC News. Employees have always warned people to be careful with the cold cup and to avoid drinking excess liquid nitrogen. "Even though that lady was sharing the article for others that may have respiratory challenges, I thought it was great and we added it to our sign of caution."
In 2017, a 14-year-old girl severely burned her hand while trying to handle Dragon's Breath at a state fair. She could have lost her thumb if they hadn't gotten to the ER in time.
"Liquid nitrogen is what's used by dermatologists to burn things off skin, so we know it can be destructive to tissue," Dr. Reed Caldwell, assistant professor at NYU Langone Health, told "Today." He warns of "rapid, significant damage to the skin and body if swallowed," a risk of asphyxiation if inhaled and cornea damage if splashed in your eye.