Why Does Your Nose Run When You Eat Spicy Food?

Chili peppers and other spicy foods sure can excite your taste buds, but that’s not all they can do to your body. Your system can have all sorts of side effects to spicy food – everything from chili burn on the skin to sudden sweats. But the most surprising for many is the runny nose. Why is that? Why does your nose run when you eat spicy food like jalapeño peppers?

It’s a fight response

That’s right. Your body is having a reaction to what it considers an irritant in the system: capsaicin in the case of chili peppers and the oil allyl isothiocyanate in the case of things like horse-radish and other plants.

Both capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanate cause your mucous membranes to go into irritant insanity mode. Your body thinks there’s an irritant present, so the mucous membranes go on the defense to protect your respiratory system. That defense is to create more snot. It’s that simple: your body is creating mucous to flush out the perceived threat.

Can spicy foods then help with cold congestion?

It’s popular advice to eat spicy food when you have a cold, and there are many quick-relief sinus sprays that use capsaicin as a way to break through congestion. In the short-term, it’s true. When you eat spicy food, the mucous production is going to get things running. Your nose will run for a bit of time.

But what happens when your body no longer perceives an irritant threat? The cold congestion comes right back, but this time it’s armed with a ton more snot to block you up. That extra mucous that your body created as part of the congestion-clearing solution, is now part of the problem. So by eating spicy food to clear congestion, you could be making the problem worse. That extra snot definitely can, and likely will, come back to haunt you. Unless, of course, you eat spicy food or use sinus spray once again.

UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on September 5, 2019 to include new content.
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