The Real Reason Chile Peppers Make You Cough

It's no secret that chile peppers can cause most eaters to tear up. According to Smithsonian Magazine, hot chiles contain a substance called capsaicin that causes your tongue and skin to become extra sensitive to heat. Your brain interprets this as actual heat, potentially causing an adrenaline rush. Some also experience the need to tear up or sweat as a reaction to the heat. This reaction comes from the fact that your body tries to wash away the chemical causing the reaction with sweat, tears, or a runny nose, per Live Science.

While you may have felt your mouth burning after eating a pepper, some also experience coughing fits after being around chile peppers, especially if you cook around them. Mental Floss reports that this reaction occurs if you end up getting capsaicin in your respiratory system as a result from washing, seeding, chopping or frying chiles. This cooking process causes aerosolized particles of the chemical to float through the air and results in people inhaling them. The capsaicin ends up sensitizing the lungs, leading to massive coughing fits. If you end up having to cook with peppers and want to avoid the pain, the best way to avoid a coughing attack starts by preventing the symptoms in the first place.

A surefire way to beat the heat

If you worry about preparing chiles in a room with little ventilation, make sure to wear the appropriate gear before starting the cooking process. According to Mental Floss, professional chefs who handle tons of chiles like to wet a bandana and wrap it around their face before cooking. You can also use a towel if you don't happen to own a bandana. Make sure to keep your hands clean. Since capsaicin is hydrophobic, water can't completely get your hands clean. Instead, opt to use vegetable oil or soap to bind with the capsaicin and ensure the chemical properly washes off your hands.

With a bit of prevention, you can avoid any pepper-based coughing attacks. Keep these protective measures in mind the next time you need to whip up a homemade batch of hot sauce or curry and avoid any unnecessary pain caused by small, floating particles of capsaicin. Just make sure to keep a glass of milk nearby once you start indulging in your spicy final products and enjoy just enough spice to get your heart rushing.