a woman about to take a sip from a cocktail that has evil smoke floating off of it

The Potential Dangers Of Liquid Nitrogen On Asthma

Nitrogen is one of the most abundant gases on the planet, and it can be used for both medical purposes and preserving food.1 However, in the past few years, liquid nitrogen has been a trendy ingredient for unique foods and drinks. From cocktails to desserts, it is infused in food and drink to create a dramatic "smoking" effect. It sounds cool, but is it safe? Is it okay for people who have asthma to consume foods and drinks with liquid nitrogen?

Liquid nitrogen and its uses

Liquid nitrogen is an extremely cold substance, and as previously mentioned, liquid nitrogen is used for medical purposes. It can be used to freeze and get rid of warts, skin tags, and other skin growths.1

In addition to medical uses, the substance can be used to preserve different types of food. In a way, it "cooks" food by freezing and evaporating the liquid in it. You could apply liquid nitrogen to oil for example, and it would turn into a powder. Liquid nitrogen has been used for years to make certain food and drinks "smoke", or to create a unique texture.2

Foods and drinks it is applied to include:

  • Smoking cocktails
  • Ice cream desserts
  • Cheese puffs
  • Dragon's Breath cereal puffs
  • Dippin Dots

If you have ever watched a cooking competition on TV, you might see professional chefs use liquid nitrogen to create a flash-frozen ice cream due to the short amount of time they have. If you're at a fancy bar, the smoking cocktail you ordered will arrive at your table with plumes of liquid nitrogen floating off of it. Modern dessert shops sometimes will serve a cereal dessert called "Dragon's Breath", and when you bite into it, the liquid nitrogen will puff out of your mouth and nose.2 Dippin Dots are also created with liquid nitrogen.

Liquid nitrogen warnings and asthma

A few years ago, the FDA officially issued a warning regarding the use of liquid nitrogen in food and drink products. The issue is that liquid nitrogen in many of these foods and drinks is added right before consumption. In order to consume food or drink where liquid nitrogen has been applied, the substance should be evaporated by the time you consume it.3

Dippin Dots is a great example; this ice cream treat is made with liquid nitrogen at a factory but by the time it is in your hands, the liquid nitrogen has evaporated and it is safe to drink. When liquid nitrogen is not applied correctly or not allowed the appropriate time to evaporate, it can cause someone to experience difficulty breathing, irritation to the mouth, throat, and skin, and even damage to some organs.3

The FDA specifically mentioned that liquid nitrogen can be harmful to people who have asthma.3 Cold food and drinks like ice cream and smoothies can already be a trigger for asthma. Since liquid nitrogen is extremely cold, it can certainly be a trigger if consumed by someone who has asthma. If the substance is consumed, it can actually compromise the airways and cause an asthma attack and shortness of breath.4

Takeaway

If you have asthma, it is advised that you avoid foods and drinks that contain liquid nitrogen as it could be a potential trigger. Even for those who do not have asthma, liquid nitrogen can cause irritation in the throat or even damage. It might seem cool and exciting to drink a smoking cocktail or to breathe "smoke", but due to the risks, it seems best to avoid liquid nitrogen.

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