The Grapevine

Ghost Pepper Challenge Gone Wrong: Eating Contest Leaves Man With Collapsed Lung, Hole In Throat Leaking Food

Competitive eating is a spectacle, and some would even say it’s a sport that rewards extreme gluttony and pain. Rising to the occasion, a man in California devoured a ghost pepper-pureed hamburger as part of an eating contest at a local restaurant. The end result? The unnamed 47-year-old man suffered a rare, life-threatening condition that left him with a hole in his throat and a collapsed lung.

The contestant drank six large glasses of water after finishing the pepper-topped burger when he began "violently retching and vomiting," according to the case report published in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. The man was rushed to the emergency room in San Francisco because he couldn't stop vomiting, and developed severe chest and stomach pain.

During a CT scan, doctors found that the man's throat was torn and his left lung had collapsed. A one-inch tear was located in the man's esophagus, leaking food, including a mix of "hamburger, onions and other green vomitus material" into the area surrounding the man's left lung. Surgeons quickly performed emergency surgery to repair his throat and re-inflate his lung.

Ghost pepper Ghost pepper-eating contest leaves California man with a hole in his throat, and a collapsed lung. Photo courtesy of Thaumaturgist, CC BY-SA 3.0

The competitive eater experienced what's known as a spontaneous esophageal rupture, or Boerhaave's syndrome. This condition is potentially fatal in 20 to 40 percent of cases and occurs secondary to a sudden increase in intraluminal pressures due to violent vomiting or retching. The condition often follows heavy food and alcohol intake, according to Medscape. However, "if left untreated, mortality approaches 100 percent," wrote the researchers.

Ghost peppers take heat and pain to a whole new level; the hot pepper can actually kill you. It contains a spicy heat that measured at 1 million units on the Scoville scale. Previous research has determined a 150-pound person would need to eat 3 pounds of dried and powdered capsaicin-rich peppers like the ghost pepper to die.

Luckily for the California native, he was placed on a feeding tube so he could recover, and sent home after 23 days of hospitalization. The feeding tube is only temporary until the man's throat has completely healed. He's expected to make a full recovery, and probably will never eat a ghost pepper again.

Let this be a cautionary tale for you competitive eaters and risk takers.

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