Reaper’s revenge: hot peppers and thunderclap headaches

Reaper’s revenge: hot peppers and thunderclap headaches

This should, of course, go without saying. Foods with “reaper” in their name need to be approached with some caution.

Consider the 34-year-old man who entered a hot pepper-eating contest where he ate one Carolina Reaper, which Guinness World Records calls the planet’s hottest chili pepper.

Like the Richter scale for earthquakes, hot peppers have their own measure of intensity, the Scoville heat scale. On this pungency index, the Reaper comes in at more than 2 million heat units.

Compare that to ordinary Tabasco sauce, which measures under 1,000.

So, what happened to this brave Reaper-eating man? Yes, he ended up at the local emergency room after developing severe neck pain, dry heaves and, over several days, a series of what physicians call thunderclap headaches.

These are extraordinarily painful headaches that come on as quickly as a thunderclap of lightning. It’s the type of head pain suffered by many stroke victims.

But this man didn’t suffer any permanent health ills. As reported in BMJ Case Reports, a scan of his brain showed constricted blood vessels. Soon enough, they returned to normal.

Doctors describing the case said they have nothing against the Reaper and aren’t telling people to necessarily avoid them. This poor soul may simply have been sensitive to capsaicin [cap-SAY-i-sin], the ingredient which gives a hot pepper its wallop.

Pepper aficionados suggest keeping a little citric acid handy to alleviate the pain should you be inclined to chance it. And expect an unpleasant experience if you eat a Reaper or any of a few other tongue-scorching hot peppers, like the Trinidad Moruga [MOR-ah-ga] Scorpion or Naga [NAH-ga] Viper.

After all, this isn’t angel food cake.

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