healthHealth and Medicine

The Latest Viral "Challenge" Is Unbelievably Dangerous


Robin Andrews

Science & Policy Writer


This is exhaustingly awful. Shane Trotter/Shutterstock

Would you take part in a dare that involved pouring acid into your ears? What about one that required you to see how far you could run off a cliff before you fell, Wile E. Coyote-style? How about a challenge that asked you to dump boiling water onto sleeping friends? No? Good – but it’s deeply distressing to report that the last of those is a genuine viral craze that’s putting kids in the hospital this very year.

As several outlets, including Time, have reported, the so-called Hot Water challenge exists, and it’s as awful as it sounds.


It genuinely involves sneaking up to people you know (and presumably love, but hey) while they’re dreaming about something. Armed with a bucket of just-boiled water, you then throw it on them, and film the hilarity as their skin peels off and they get hospitalized.

Another variant of this challenge sees participants drinking boiling water through a straw. It’s entirely unclear why anyone would ever think this wasn't going to end in tragedy, but we'd bet peer pressure has a lot to do with it.

There have been several incidences of teenagers spending weeks getting treated for their phenomenally painful second- and third-degree burns. Then there's the death of an 8-year-old girl, who was coaxed into drinking the scorching liquid by her cousin.

Dangerous and potentially deadly viral trends are of course nothing new, lest we forget the recent Tide Pod challenge, which involved the mechanical digestion of laundry detergent packets. As explained here, this can cause a range of dreadful conditions, including foaming stomachs, the perforation of your esophagus, and, perhaps, death.


Then there’s the Kiki challenge, which requires you to jump out of a moving car and dance alongside it to Drake’s In My Feelings, all while the car continues moving. As you’d expect, this has also led to some rather serious physical injuries.

A thoughtful piece by the Washington Post notes that viral trends themselves are hard to verify. In fact, what often trends is the warning about the trend. For example, not too long ago, a mother posted her thoughts on a “trend” involving kids spraying deodorant for a prolonged period of time on their skin – and thereby giving them something akin to frostbite – to Facebook.

That’s when Google Trends showed a spike in search terms for “deodorant challenge”. It’s not clear whether or not this exacerbated the situation, but it’s safe to say that the reporting on said challenges – designed to stoke grim curiosity, to promote the warning, or both – helped drive the seemingly viral trajectory of the tale.

So is the Hot Water challenge a viral craze all by itself or not? Will this article do more harm than good? Are we the baddies?


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