You Probably Shouldn't Eat This Food, Unless You Want To Have A "Thunderclap" Headache

by Caroline Burke

A regular headache can derail your productivity, and sometimes your entire day, even if the pain isn't the absolute worst that you've ever experienced. But once you know what a thunderclap headache is, you might never complain about a normal headache ever again. A thunderclap headache is downright diabolical, and apparently, it can come from a whole mess of sources, including super spicy food. So yeah, you might want to re-think your love of Mexican and Thai dishes after you hear about this.

According to BuzzFeed, a 34-year-old man endured thunderclap headaches after eating a Carolina Reaper (the world's spiciest pepper) during a pepper-eating contest. At first, the news outlet reports, he was only dry-heaving a bit after eating the hot pepper, but soon after, he apparently began experiencing severe pain in his head and neck. In the days that followed, he started getting brief, yet agonizing headaches that were so bad, he actually had to go to the emergency room to be treated for the pain. Thankfully, according to the case study on this guy, which was published in BMJ Case Reports, he's totally fine now, but still — major yikes.

Although the term "thunderclap headache" sort of speaks for itself, you might be wondering what it is, exactly, and how you can avoid experiencing one yourself — aside from not entering a hot-pepper-eating contest.

According to Mayo Clinic, a thunderclap headache is an extremely severe headache that strikes suddenly and out of the blue, lasting in waves for up to 60 seconds at a time.

Thunderclap headaches are pretty uncommon, but they're important to watch out for because they could potentially signal a life-threatening condition.

Mayo Clinic reports that this specific type of headache (extremely intense pain that comes in striking waves) can sometimes be a sign of a bunch of scary things, including a potential blood clot in the brain, leaking of spinal fluid, or a rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, to name a few. But it can also apparently be caused by a seriously spicy pepper, so what gives?

While BMJ's case study doesn't appear to offer an exact explanation for, or correlation between the Carolina Reaper pepper and the man's thunderclap headache, BuzzFeed reports it's not entirely unusual for this type of pain to be brought on by really spicy food. According to the site, cayenne peppers (which are also super spicy) have been known to narrow the size of blood vessels, and a sudden headache is often caused by exactly that: the narrowing of blood vessels in the brain.

It's possible that the Carolina Reaper caused the blood vessels in this man's brain to quickly compress, thus leading to an epic string of headaches.

Ironically enough, though, spicy foods can actually help headaches too, according to Woman's Day — but they'll apparently only help if your headache is sinus-related, because spicy food opens up your nasal passages and decreases congestion, thus relieving the type of pressure that might lead to a sinus headache.

If you think you're experiencing a thunderclap headache, you're probably not wrong. After all, the symptoms are extremely specific: a headache that comes on as quickly as a clap of thunder, lasts for up to a minute (but not much longer), then goes away. Since a thunderclap headache can be either totally harmless or an indicator of a severe medical issue, it's definitely best that you talk to a medical professional ASAP after experiencing one.

Beyond that, you might want to stay away from the Carolina Reaper altogether, even if you're not prone to headaches at all. The pepper has the spiciness equivalent of pepper spray, which temporarily blinds people. If that isn't enough to keep you away, this video of two girls trying to take on the Carolina Reaper definitely will. I'll stick with cayennes, thank you very much.