This ghost pepper horror story ends with a 1-inch hole in a man's esophagus

A 47-year-old man learned why eating a ghost pepper can be a frightful experience.

The searing ordeal occurred several months ago, but it was so terrifyingly rare that a group of Bay Area physicians wrote about it recently in the Journal of Emergency Medicine. (Just in time for Halloween.)

The man had gobbled a hamburger laden with ghost peppers during a contest at a San Francisco restaurant. After ingesting the peppers, the unidentified man was driven into a violent fit of vomiting and retching.

He was taken to an emergency room at UCSF Medical Center, intubated and sent to an operating table, where doctors discovered that he had a 1-inch rupture in his esophagus.

Doctors also found a collection of food debris and air in his chest had caused a lung to collapse.

His condition was so severe that he was hospitalized for 23 days. He was sent home with a gastric tube.

The man’s reaction was a rare complication, said Craig Smollin, the senior author of the study and UCSF associate professor of emergency medicine.

“There are many people who have ghost peppers and most people don’t develop any type of severe symptoms,” he told The Times.

The pepper didn’t cause the hole in the man’s esophagus — but his reaction to it did, Smollin said.

Also known as bhut jolokia, ghost peppers are more than twice the strength of habañero peppers.

The scorching ghost pepper measures more than 1,000,000 units on the Scoville scale, which gauges a pepper’s heat.

Smollin’s words of wisdom to any pepper heads thinking about testing their limits: Don’t do it.

But if you do, he said, be prepared in case you need to seek medical attention.

veronica.rocha@latimes.com

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