Man takes part in super-hot pepper food challenge, tears 2.5cm hole in his oesophagus

The man consumed the ghost pepper, considered the second hottest in the world

Man takes part in super-hot pepper food challenge, tears 2.5cm hole in his oesophagus


A San Francisco man who entered an eating contest involving super hot ghost peppers – the spicy vegetable that until recently was considered the hottest in the world – ended up burning a 2.5cm hole in his oesophagus, according to doctors. The man had eaten a burger laced with a purée of the bhut jolokia pepper, a thumb-sized red vegetable with more than twice the heat of a habanero pepper.

Showing up in the emergency department of a hospital after consuming the pepper, the man was complaining of severe abdominal and chest pain that led to violent retching and vomiting, according to a report published recently in The Journal of Emergency Medicine.

After undergoing CT scans and chest x-rays, doctors were alerted to the possibility of a “spontaneous oesophageal perforation.” The patient, who has not been publicly identified, was taken immediately to an operating theatre, where he was found to be suffering from a tear in his gullet. Fluid and “food debris” was found in the year, according to his doctors.

The man required the use of a feeding tube for 13 days and spent a total of 23 days in the hospital. Oesophageal tears, while rare, are extremely dangerous, and pose a serious risk of death. The oesophagus is torn by the force of the vomiting and retching and is named Boerhaave’s Syndrome, in honour of the 18th century Dutch physician who first observed it when his patient died after throwing up a gluttonous lunch.

The ghost pepper’s heat is measured at 1m units on the Scoville scale, a measure of capsaicin, the chemical compound responsible for giving peppers and chillies their heat. A regular red pepper sold in supermarkets rates as a zero on the Scoville scale, with jalapeños coming somewhere between 2,500 and 8,000 units. The world record holder, the Carolina Reaper, stands at 1.5m units, while pepper spray used by police officers hits 5m.

The researchers writing about the case claimed that it should be looked at as a warning about fad food stunts that pose potential health risks.

“Food challenges have become common among social media, including the infamous cinnamon challenge,” they said, in reference to the 2012 YouTube stunt that saw thousands of people trying to swallow a spoonful of the spice, with at least one case of a collapsed lung reported.

“This [ghost pepper] case serves as an important reminder of a potentially life-threatening surgical emergency that was initially interpreted as discomfort after a large spicy meal.”

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