The challenge, also known as the ‘pass-out game’ or the ‘choking game’, involves teenagers depriving themselves of oxygen to achieve a high, which causes them to lose consciousness and faint.
The recorded footage is then uploaded on social media sites such as Snapchat and Instagram.
Dr Nick Flynn, a GP at Union Quay, Medical Centre, Cork, warned that the risks associated with the challenge include fainting, hypoxia (when the brain is deprived of oxygen), seizures, brain damage, and death.
“The kids are introducing themselves into an uncontrolled environment. It’s very risky,” he said.
“In performing the pass-out challenge they are mimicking suffocation. They are stopping the chest muscle from moving, which stops the chest from working and you can’t get oxygen to the brain. The brain is then starved of oxygen and the person loses consciousness,” he said.
“What is actually going on in the brain is a lack of oxygen similar to when someone is drowning, choking or having a cardiac arrest. It causes brain hypoxia or low levels of oxygen in the brain and that can cause seizures and death. If you have low oxygen to the brain for over three minutes you can get brain damage and if you have low oxygen to the brain for over five minutes it can result in death.
“Kids are experimenting with alcohol and entry level drugs and if you mix these and this activity this is fraught with danger. The children there are more disinhibited and less likely to behave appropriately if there is an emergency. Genuinely it is very scary.”
He said there is also the risk of people falling and injuring themselves after losing consciousness.
A 15-year-old boy died in the US in 2012 after falling on glass when he lost consciousness.
Dr Flynn added that in some situations, people slump into a seated position after losing consciousness, which makes it harder for the heart to pump and can result in low levels of oxygen to the brain.
The GP, who is a father of a 10 year old, said parents should warn their children of the dangers of this type of activity.
“Sticking your head in the sand is not an option. You have to talk to them and make them aware of the risks,” he said, adding that it as also an issue for schools and people running teenage discos.
Don Myers, president of the National Parents’ Council (post-primary), said that both parents and schools need to be aware of the game. “They need to talk to their teens and to highlight the dangers associated with it,” he said. “This will lead to a tragedy and there is no way back.
“These games are not worth losing your life.”