BOSTON -- Half-chewed tortilla chips can pose a 'serious' health risk, according to a California physician who almost lost an elderly patient when her esophagus was torn by the corner of a chip.
In a letter in this week's New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. George Longstreth warned other physicians that elderly people wearing dentures and others who have trouble chewing are at risk of esophagal laceration from sharp tortilla chip edges.
'A poorly chewed tortilla chip can produce serious injury,' Longstreth wrote.
Longstreth, a doctor at Kaiser Permanente Hospital in San Diego, reported a case in which a 63-year-old San Diego woman was hospitalized after a tortilla chip tore a 5 -inch gash in her esophagus.
Soon after swallowing the chip, Irene Harnisch began experiencing severe chest pains and throwing up blood. She was hospitalized for six days and could not eat solid food for nearly two weeks, Longstreth said.
'It was a very serious incident. She lost four pints of blood. It's possible she could have died,' Longstreth said in a telephone interview.
Longstreth said Harnisch probably had trouble chewing the chip because she wears upper dentures.
Harnisch, reached at her home in San Diego, said she was attending a picnic when the chip became lodged in her throat.
Harnsich said she has since stopped eating tortilla chips. 'I don't want them in my house. They scare me,' she said.