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Ghost Pepper Challenge Almost Kills Man By Tearing a Hole in His Esophagus

Don’t try this at home.

| 2 min read

Don’t try this at home.

There are plenty of questionable food eating challenges across the globe, but it takes a certain kind of food competition to lead to a life-threatening torn esophagus: ghost peppers.

Ghost peppers, or Bhut Jolokia, are among the hottest peppers in the world, with a measured “heat” of more than 1 million Scoville heat units — for reference, tabasco sauce has about 2,500 – 5,000 Scoville heat units, according to the Smithsonian. The Scoville scale is based on human taste buds, measuring how much dilution is needed until a spice no longer tastes hot to taste testers.

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Although ghost peppers, once thought to be the hottest chiles in the world, were since passed up by the Naga Viper pepper and the Trinidad Scorpion Moruga Blend, the peppers still pack a serious punch. In fact, eating just a single seed from a ghost pepper can cause severe burning in the mouth for up to 30 minutes.

With that in mind, imagine trying to chow down a hamburger topped with ghost pepper puree, which is exactly what a 47-year-old man in California attempted in a local restaurant’s food competition.

The man successfully downed the ghost-pepper topped burger, drank six large glasses of water, and then started “violently retching and vomiting,” according to a report published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine.

After a failed attempt to alleviate his symptoms, including a heart rate of 106 beats per minute, with a medically administered “gastrointestinal cocktail,” the man was was rushed to the emergency room. A CT scan of his chest showed that his left lung had collapsed and his esophagus was torn, so the doctors began emergency surgery.

During the operation, the surgeons spotted a 1-inch tear in the man’s esophagus, which was leaking a mix of “hamburger, onions, and other green vomitus material” into the space around his collapsed lung, the report said.

The man received three chest tubes and one gastric tube to help him recover. The chest tubes were taken out after 14 days, and he was able to tolerate fluids three days later. He was discharged from the hospital after 23 days, but still needed the gastric tube to be able to eat.  

The scientific name for the man’s rare condition is called Boerhaave syndrome, also known as a “spontaneous esophageal rupture.” Lead study author Dr. Ann Arens says Boerhaave syndrome is “a relatively rare phenomenon,” but if it goes untreated, “mortality approaches 100 percent.”

Moral of the story? Ghost pepper eating competitions probably won’t end well.

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