SPECIAL ALERT: THE HOT PEPPER “ONE CHIP CHALLENGE”
Let’s turn down the heat on the most recent social media challenge. Many sites such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and TikTok are prime activators of risky behavior, especially in teens. In recent years, millions of videos and pictures of youth taking on challenges or dares using medications, food, or other everyday items in an “I dare you” style challenge. Many of these challenges can have serious consequences. The most recent challenge is the Paqui hot pepper “One Chip Challenge,” and has led to patients going to the emergency room with very uncomfortable symptoms.
WHAT IS THE “ONE CHIP CHALLENGE”?
In this challenge, the goal is to eat a special Paqui-brand chip made with two of the world’s strongest hot chili peppers, then wait as long as possible to eat or drink after eating. Amazon sells these single-chip packages for $9, and are also sold in convenience stores and gas stations. The Paqui website explains: “This year’s high voltage chip contains the super-charged Carolina Reaper Pepper and stinging Scorpion Pepper with a shocking twist; it’ll turn your tongue BLUE!” They have “rankings” for how long before you “short circuit”:
– 1 minute = Powerless
– 10 minutes = Powerful
– 30 minutes = Supercharged
– 1 hour = Invincible
WHAT SYMPTOMS ARE COMMON WITH THIS HOT PEPPER CHALLENGE?
Hot peppers contain natural chemicals that cause the same sensation as touching something that is burning-hot. The chemicals are capsaicin and its relatives, capsaicinoids. The heat sensation occurs on contact and ranges from warmth to burning pain, but it does not directly damage tissue like real heat would do. However, the body’s defense mechanisms respond just as if there was actual burn damage. They start-up inflammation, and so redness, swelling, and other symptoms can show up anyway. After repeated or extreme exposure to hot-pepper chemicals, the body learns it is a trick and adapts, and overall pain transmission from that area is lessened for some time afterward.
The eyes, mouth, throat, stomach, intestines, and lungs are most sensitive to tiny amounts of capsaicin. However, even the relatively-tough skin can feel burning pain if the hot-pepper chemicals get on it. Some individuals have touched sensitive areas after handling the Paqui-brand chips, leading to significant pain and burning sensation.
Common symptoms following eating the chip include:
– MOUTH, STOMACH, GUT
- Intense burning pain in mouth, throat, and stomach, nausea, vomiting, retching, abdominal pain, hot/irritating stools.
- Intense burning pain, redness, swelling, excessive sensitivity to barely-warm water and to touch. Symptoms may be severe initially but usually resolve within 4-8 hours.
- Temporary burning pain, possibly so bad the eyes cannot open at first, cannot tolerate bright light, streaming tears and runny nose, red eyes, swelling around the eye and swelling of the eyelid. Swelling and redness typically resolve in 1-2 days.
WHAT TREATMENTS MAY RELIEVE THE PAIN?
– ORAL MOUTH, STOMACH, GUT
- TAKE sips of cold milk (if tolerated), or a serving of yogurt, ice cream, full-strength honey, table sugar, or a piece a bread. Swishing mouth with a dose of liquid Mylanta/Maalox and then swallowing it may provide relief. Consider other available antacids for stomach upset.
- WASH exposed skin gently several times with soap and warm water; as warm as the person can tolerate. Warm water is more effective at removing capsaicin but may temporarily increase discomfort.
- USE cold water soaks or compresses to temporarily reduce the burning pain. Refresh when pain returns.
- CONSIDER a dose of a pain reliever such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen for persistent pain.
- Rinse eyes with cold water using a soppy-wet washcloth or bringing handfuls of cold water up to the eyes.
People who have taken the “One Chip Challenge” have reported significant pain and inflammation but no actual burn damage. Our advice is to call the Missouri Poison Center at 1-800-222-1222 where specially trained nurses, pharmacists, and medical toxicologists can provide you with the most up-to-date management advice on common and uncommon exposures.