Old Wives' Tales
Radio & TV
Toxin du jour
Claim: A child who drank sour candy spray experienced throat spasms.
Origins: This alert about sour candy sprays dates to May 2006. Akin to warnings about drug-laced suckers and poisoned Halloween treats, it raises the specter of a danger to children lurking in a foodstuff they find highly appealing. Because youngsters are prone to devouring candy as they encounter it rather than first showing it to a parent, sweets have to be safe for them to eat. This apparent account of one child's experiences suggests that at least one class of candy is not.
While the heads-up appears to be the work of a parent who saw her child through a difficult and frightening time and now seeks to warn others to stay away from a product that brought her youngster to grief, we have yet to locate the author of the piece and so can't say if there really was a little girl named Kylin whose drinking of a sour liquid candy caused her throat to spasm and her airway to close. Details given in the story place the incident in Canada (reference is made to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency and to Global, one of that country's major television networks), but the candy warned against is also available in the U.S., making the caution borderless.
Children have a high tolerance and liking for extremely sour flavors. (An adult's palate differs from that of a child in terms of which flavors can be distinguished and what tastes good. Because of this difference, sour candies marketed to adults are deliberately formulated to be less intense than those intended for their younger counterparts.) Sour bonbons account for a large segment of the youth candy market, with such confections available in a wide variety of forms, such as lozenges, toffees, suckers, powders, sprays, and liquids. While a candy meant to be spritzed into the mouth might not appeal to adults, it would to children, who would regard such delivery method as supplying an additional element of fun to the experience.
Children would also (as did the girl in the account) look to experiment with this type of product by attempting to drink it from the container. Such use is
Laryngospasms can and do occur, though, and it is not unreasonable that a child who drank a liquid candy could have experienced one, even if nothing in the candy were to blame. A laryngospasm is a spasmodic closure of the larynx — this physical event is something the human body inflicts upon itself when liquid threatens to surge into the lungs. When we are in danger of drowning ourselves via attempting to breathe and drink at the same time, our vocal folds snap shut, temporarily interrupting speech and breathing. (Because the larynx snaps shut with such speed and force, the voicebox can feel sore for hours after the spasm has concluded.)
A laryngospasm happens in a flash and usually lasts 30 to
The account being spread in e-mail does appear to chronicle a laryngospasm: it describes the typical progress of such an event, and nothing in it is inconsistent with how such a medical episode would unfold. However, where the warning breaks down is in the aspect of what caused the spasm and thus the nature of what is being warned against. While the account's writer ascribes it to some component of the spray and thus advocates parents everywhere keep that particular form of candy away from their kids, it appears more likely the cause was a simultaneous attempt to both drink and breathe. More simply, under the far more plausible theory, anything the child had been in the process of drinking at that moment — milk, water, candy spray — would have caused her vocal folds to snap shut and leave her unable to draw breath for about a minute.
Barbara "the spray candy story is hard to swallow" Mikkelson
Last updated: 9 June 2006
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