A Ghost Chili Pepper Gives Man A Hole In His Esophagus

Bhut Jolokia chili pepper, seen here looking deceptively innocent. Pete Burana/Shutterstock

People freaking out after eating a super-hot chili is a staple of viral videos. Aside from a few tears and hysterical hand flapping, it might seem like a bit of a laugh. But for this unfortunate guy, it left him with a long hospital stay, a rupture in his esophagus, and a gastric tube.

It might sound like a tall-tale, but the story of the incident was written up in a recent case study in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. The 47-year-old man in question ate a ghost pepper, otherwise known as a "bhut jolokia", at a contest.

The pepper is widely regarded as one of the top five hottest chili peppers in the world by the Guinness World Records, measuring a blistering 1,000,000 Scoville heat units. For comparison, that’s around 400 times hotter than Tabasco sauce. Despite this, there's little to no other medical records of adverse effects.

This man wasn’t so lucky, however. After ingesting the chili, he ate a burger and drank six glasses of water in an attempt to drown out the heat, but to no avail. He was rushed to the emergency room at the University of California, San Francisco, with severe chest pain, heavy retching, and vomiting.

At the hospital, things only got worse while he was dosed up with painkillers, numbing ointment, and the antacid Maalox. The doctors moved him to the operating room and discovered he had a 2.5-centimeter (1-inch) tear in his distal esophagus.

The surgeons managed to repair the tear, but when he was discharged on day 23, he was left with a gastric tube to deliver nutrition directly to his stomach.

While the chili didn’t exactly “burn” a hole into him, it’s believed the man suffered from Boerhaave syndrome – a rupture of the esophagus often associated with intense retching and vomiting. It also carries with it a high mortality rate.

“Food challenges have become common among social media, including the infamous cinnamon challenge," the researchers concluded. "We present a case of a patient who sustained an esophageal rupture as the result of forceful retching and vomiting after ghost pepper ingestion."

Moral of the story, maybe go easy on the next social media challenge...


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