The family of a Massachusetts teen who died last week reportedly believes his death has something to do with him eating a spicy chip as part of a challenge advertised on a snack company’s website.
Now those chips have been removed from shelves “out of an abundance of caution,” the company, Paqui LLC, said in a statement posted to its website. The teen Harris Wolobah’s cause of death has not yet been revealed, Fox News Digital previously reported.
Wolobah reportedly ate the chip at school and became sick. His family then picked him up and started to feel better, but he was later found passed out and taken to a hospital, where he died, FOX Business reported.
“Any time you’re sort of testing the body to its maximum, bad things can happen,” Bradford Holland, MD, an otolaryngologist in Central Texas, told Fox News Digital.
“They have formulated this [chip] to have extremely high doses of capsaicin, which can be a toxic substance to the body,” he added. “Although most people can tolerate it, some people can’t.”
Sarah Soden, director of the division of developmental and behavioral health at Children’s Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, agreed.
“Any time we are doing an activity that goes against our body’s own natural instinct to protect itself, we can get hurt,” Soden told Fox News Digital. “Choking is a risk with an activity like this.”
The “One Chip Challenge” is part of a marketing campaign by Paqui, a Texas-based company which sells tortilla chips.
It involves eating a single spicy tortilla chip seasoned with Carolina Reaper and Naga Viper peppers, and then waiting as long as possible before eating or drinking anything else.
The Carolina Reaper is one of the world’s hottest peppers, with a measurement of 1.641 million Scoville Heat Units (SHU), according to a website called PepperHead.
The pepper, according to the website, is a cross between a ghost pepper and a red habanero, and was bred in South Carolina.
The Naga Viper pepper is a cross of three peppers — Naga Morich, Ghost Pepper and a Trinidad Scorpion pepper — and has an SHU of 1.349 million.
Hot peppers contain capsaicin, which is a plant extract that in small doses is actually thought to be healthy, Holland said.
“But it’s also an irritant to the mouth and the linings of the body wherever it touches it,” Holland said.
“It can be an extreme irritant, so that’s where you can get into trouble. Typically we don’t see life-threatening injuries, but it can be very uncomfortable,” he added.
Holland explained that in someone without medical problems, high doses of capsaicin can cause mouth burns and esophageal burns, stomach issues, nausea and vomiting, which are not that uncommon.
But if saliva-laden capsaicin gets into the lungs, it can cause pneumonitis — an inflammation that can be serious, especially for people with preexisting conditions, Holland added.
“Certainly if someone is prone to having heart or cardiovascular disease, this could be the inciting event that pushes them over to heart attack or stroke,” he said.
Holland continued, “There have been very few reports of heart attacks induced because of these kinds of extremes, and that’s usually in an older person.”
Allergic reactions are another risk, according to Holland.
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