Why does my Nose Run When I Eat Spicy Food?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Some people have noticed that when they eat spicy food, their noses run, occasionally while eating and sometimes afterwards. There are several reasons why the nose tends to run when people eat heavily spiced food, primarily due to certain chemicals in the food. For people who find it uncomfortable or irritating, prescription drugs are available to minimize the runny nose. These drugs are usually sprayed into the nose about an hour before eating.

Chili peppers.
Chili peppers.

The primary reason spicy food causes a runny nose is that it contains a chemical compound known as capsaicin, which is present in varying degrees in hot peppers. Capsaicin is an irritant, and as the mucus membranes in the nose are exposed to it, they become inflamed and increase mucus production. It can also irritate the membranes of the eyes, causing tearing. The tears drain into the sinuses and run out the nose.

Chemicals in certain foods may induce a runny nose.
Chemicals in certain foods may induce a runny nose.

Capsaicin is not the only thing which can irritate the nose and eyes and cause a runny nose. Compounds in members of the mustard family have similar effects, which is why a squirt of horseradish can elicit a similar squirt of tears. In fact, compounds from the mustard family are so potent that they have even been used as chemical weapons historically.

Compounds in members of the mustard family are able to irritate the eyes and cause a runny nose.
Compounds in members of the mustard family are able to irritate the eyes and cause a runny nose.

Gustatory rhinitis, as doctors refer to this type of runny nose, is also caused by exposure to warmth and steam. People who have colds are often told to eat warm, steamy foods or to use a steam tent for their heads to decongest their noses and sinuses. This works equally well when people do not have a cold. When people eat spicy food which is also hot, such as a steaming curry, the steam will loosen up mucus and contribute to the runny nose effect.

The heat and capsaicin also dilate blood vessels, which is why people tend to turn red as they eat spicy food. Sweating can also occur. In people who are acclimated to heat and heavy spicing, symptoms of this nature may only appear when someone eats something which is very hot.

For some people, the runny nose may simply be part of the experience of eating spicy food, while others may find it annoying. It is important to note that eating spicy dishes is not a good treatment for congestion, because in addition to acting as a decongestant, spicy food also triggers mucus production. People who eat spicy food while congested may end up more congested than when they started, even if they experienced temporary relief while eating.

The heat from spicy Indian curries acts as a natural decongestant.
The heat from spicy Indian curries acts as a natural decongestant.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


It's really funny to see how different cultures approach the whole eating spicy foods thing as well.

My boyfriend is from Hong Kong, and he always talks about how eating spicy foods is good for you if you live in a very wet area since it can help you get rid of the dampness in your body.

In fact, some doctors even recommend people to eat spicy foods if they have a cold to get all the excess "dampness" out of their bodies, and many people there recommend eating spicy foods in winter to get the coldness and dampness out.

Interesting to see how different cultures deal with the whole "why does your nose run when you eat spicy food" question, right?


Hi -- I have two unrelated questions. First, can dogs eat spicy food? I am housesitting for a family with a dog next week, and whenever I'm at home I usually cook spicy things, so I wanted to know what would happen if the dog accidentally got into something that I cook.

Secondly, is it safe to eat spicy food during pregnancy? This is a long-term debate between my sister and I. She swears up and down that eating spicy food during pregnancy is unhealthy for the baby and that it can make it uncomfortable, but I think that sounds silly.

I mean, aren't there so many health benefits to spicy foods? I could swear I had just read an article about how caspsaicin was good for your health, so why wouldn't it be good for your baby's health as well?

Does anyone know the answer to these questions?


I had always heard about people getting a runny nose when eating spicy food, but I always get a different effect -- I always get really sweaty!

It's really crazy, because I can eat a jalapeƱo without getting a runny nose at all, but even the littlest bit of spice makes me start to sweat like crazy. All of my friends think it's really weird because they only get the runny nose thing.

So why do I sweat when I eat spicy food? Is it something connected with the capascin again, or are the two unrelated?

I would really love to find out, if for no other reason then I could tell all my friends what's going on, and that I am not a total weirdo when it comes to eating spicy food!


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