A 2-year-old girl in India has died after eating a hot chili pepper, the Times of India is reporting.
Doctors say the girl, whose name has not been released, accidentally bit into the hot chili pepper. The body’s normal reaction to eating a hot chili pepper is watery eyes, respiratory distress (such as coughing), and sometimes, vomiting. Doctors believe the girl vomited from the chili pepper, and aspirated some of the fluid into her lungs. She was taken to a hospital, where she died of respiratory failure a short time later.
Dr. Chittaranjan Behera, the physician who performed the autopsy on the young girl, explains.
“The problem occurs when food or gastric fluid enter the wind pipe, as happened in this case. It causes respiratory failure if resuscitation is not conducted immediately.”
Normally, the body prevents gastric juices from winding up in the trachea — or wind pipe — through the act of coughing. However, in the girl’s case, her cough reflex may have been compromised, perhaps due to being unconscious.
The girl died from eating the hot chili pepper several months ago, but her story has only now been made public, after her case was published in the medical journal Medico-Legal Journal.
“Aspiration of gastric contents resulting in death due to respiratory failure is not uncommon. However, this is the first such case involving the accidental bite of a chilli at our hospital. It is rarely reported in medical-legal literature.”
As of this writing, it is not clear which specific chili pepper the young girl ate.
Indian cuisine relies heavily on spices, including hot chili peppers, according to lifestyle magazine Saveur.
In fact, one of the hottest chili peppers in the world hails from India: the feared naga jolokia (alternatively known as the bhut jolokia or ghost chili).
The “heat” from hot chili peppers is measured according to a scale called the Scoville Scale, named for chemist Wilbur Scoville, who devised it in 1912.
As you can see from the photo above, a mild chili pepper, such as pepperoncini, has about 100-500 Scoville units. A jalapeño chili has about 5,000 (on average), and a ghost chili has upwards of a million. Further, tear gas, such as what is used by police and the military, checks in at about five-to-six million Scoville units, and chemically pure capsaicin — the chemical that causes the “heat” in chili peppers — is about 16 million Scoville units.
As Caitlyn Lowe writes in Global Post, giving chili peppers to young children is strongly discouraged.
“Capsaicin, a chemical compound found in hot peppers, does pose some potential threat for young children… Hot peppers may even cause your child some digestive trouble, including nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and burning diarrhea. Some kids take to hot peppers better than others, but as a general rule, the younger the child, the more sensitive the digestive system. Avoid giving hot peppers to toddlers under two years old and only introduce hot peppers in small amounts to older children.”
Further, Lowe advises introducing hot chili peppers slowly to your children’s diets, giving their mouths and digestive systems time to adapt, and avoiding the risk of an upset tummy.
Dr. Sudhir Gupta, speaking to the Times of India, warns parents that small children cannot differentiate between what is food and is not food, so parents must keep their eyes on them at all times, especially when cooking with hot chilis.
[Image via Shutterstock/Vitaly Korovin]