The One Chip Challenge has been on social media since 2021 but has recently become popular again. The challenge involves eating just one extremely hot tortilla chip and then waiting as long as possible before eating or drinking anything. The chip, one of the hottest in the world, is packaged in a coffin shaped bag with an extensive warning label. Many of the reaction videos from the challenge have gained over 200,000 views. While it may seem harmless to eat a single chip, these contain two of the hottest peppers in the world. The immediate effects felt after eating the chip come from the presence of capsaicin and can lead to dangerous side effects.
What Is Capsaicin?
Capsaicin is found naturally in peppers and gives us the spicy and hot sensation we feel when eat them. Capsaicin is measured by using Scoville heat units (SHU). The chip used for the challenge is made with two of the hottest peppers: Carolina Reaper (1.7 million SHU) and Naga Viper Peppers (1.4 million SHU). To put those numbers in perspective, a jalapeno pepper is only 2,500 – 8,000 SHU.
Capsaicin is also an active ingredient in pepper spray and bear spray, and can cause intense irritation, redness and pain to the eyes, airway and skin.
What Are the Risks?
Capsaicin can be highly irritating to the mouth and throat, and most people feel the effects immediately. The most common side effects from ingesting capsaicin, aside from mouth and throat pain, include significant nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and intestinal discomfort, especially after large amounts.
Large doses of capsaicin can also cause more serious health problems, including allergic reactions, heart palpitations, esophageal damage, chest pain, troubled breathing and heart attacks. With these risks, children, teens and those with medical conditions and allergies should use caution when consuming foods with high levels of capsaicin.
What to Do?
Everyone should be cautious when consuming food that contains capsaicin. Since it can be transferred unknowingly, immediately wash hands with soap after handling. If you get capsaicin in your eyes, immediately rinse eyes with room temperature water for 15-20 minutes. For throat and mouth irritation, milk is more effective than water at relieving pain and the burning sensation.
Like any other social media trend, the One Chip Challenge should be part of a bigger discussion about the dangers of peer pressure with your child. Parents should advise that, at the very least, this particular challenge will induce extreme discomfort and pain, if not something worse. Teenagers tend to believe they are invincible and the desire to “go viral” or collect likes and comments can get in the way of their better judgement.
If you or your child show serious symptoms such as difficulty breathing or chest pain after consuming capsaicin, call 9-1-1. For other symptoms or questions, please seek immediate guidance from the Poison Control Help Line at 1-800-222-1222 where specially trained nurses and pharmacists can talk you through what to watch for and help decide what further action is needed.
Natalie I. Rine, PharmD, BCPS, BCCCP, is Director of the Central Ohio Poison Center at Nationwide Children's Hospital.
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