Ice, salt combo injuring kids, parents warn

It was supposed to hurt for a moment.

But the injuries a local 13-year-old girl suffered a week ago after trying the so-called salt and ice challenge are making it hard to walk upright today without pain.

The challenge, which has gained notoriety on the Internet and in YouTube videos, involves a person pouring salt on his or her skin and placing ice on top of the salt. A chemical reaction with the salt makes the temperature of the ice drop below the normal freezing mark of 32 degrees Fahrenheit as it melts and pulls energy from the skin’s heat, according to Colorado Mesa University chemistry professor Joe Richards. The result is frostbite, Richards said.

“Putting an ice cube on a patch of skin isn’t going to kill them but it could give them a nasty frostbite burn and maybe a scar,” Richards said. “It wouldn’t take long with direct contact, maybe seconds.”

Valeri, a Grand Valley mother of two who did not want her last name or her daughter’s name included in this article, said her daughters tried the challenge Feb. 22 at a slumber party at the suggestion of another girl. One of her girls didn’t do the challenge very long and only got a red mark. But her 13-year-old daughter had “a burn the size of a small pear on her back” the next morning.

The next day, Saturday, she called a nurse on call for treatment advice and placed aloe vera on the injury. She decided to go to Primary Care Partners on Sunday when the burn started to blister.

Even now, the pain is just beginning to ease and the burn may leave a scar, Valeri said, “unless I really, really watch it.”

“I want kids to know this isn’t a joke,” she said. “If they think it’s this cool thing to do, it’s not. It’s dangerous.”

Valeri said she wants kids and parents to know the dangers of challenges like these and the risk of scarring or infection if the frostbite burns go untreated. She’s embarrassed that her daughter was questioned by Primary Care Partners staff about the wound, she said, and that paperwork was filed with the Mesa County Department of Human Services to document the burn.

“I’m really cautious about stuff like this. I told my daughters this is why you don’t do (challenges), but I need to talk to them more about peer pressure,” Valeri said.

Valeri said medical staff she dealt with had not heard of the challenge, but teachers she talked to at her daughter’s school were aware of it. District 51 spokeswoman Christy McGee said Friday the challenge has circulated in and out of popularity in the district for eight years. She said nursing staff in the district haven’t seen much of the trend lately, but it is not always easy to detect the resulting burns.

“The kids will do it in areas that are covered,” McGee said.

McGee said the district’s nursing director has only heard of one case in recent months of a student at school having a wound as a result of the salt and ice challenge.

“But if there’s one, there’s probably others,” she said.


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