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Why Do Spicy Foods Cause Runny Noses?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated: May 21, 2024

Spicy foods cause runny noses for one simple reason: they contain the chemical capsaicin, which causes inflammation in the nerves and elevates the production of mucus in the nasal membranes. This leads to an increase in the draining action of the nasal passages. While the result may not be aesthetically pleasing, there are actually a number of reasons why this may be a good thing for the body.

Eating spicy foods when they have a cold is one way that people can take advantage of the action of capsaicin. For many people, one of the worst conditions associated with the common cold is a stuffy nose. While it is possible to take a decongestant and get some relief, the fact is the effect will not last all that long and will not do much to resolve the problem in the long term. Instead, a spicy curry or similar dish will not only provide the body with some much needed nutrients, but the heat from the spices will act as a natural decongestant, bringing relief quickly without any side effects at all. With a full stomach and the ability to breathe temporarily restored, it is often much easier for someone with a cold to get the sleep the needed to fight off the virus.

The fact that spicy foods cause runny noses is also a sign that the body needs to expel excess mucus. Capsaicin helps the veins and arteries to open up and begin to flush out elements that could eventually lead to blockages in the body. This natural phase of house cleaning helps to keep the body in better operating condition. Spicy foods are nature’s way of allowing the body to perform general maintenance, ensuring fewer health issues and promoting quicker recovery.

why do spicy foods cause runny noses

Just because spicy foods cause runny noses does not mean that every time a person has a spicy dish, his nose is going to run like a water faucet. If there isn’t much that needs to be expelled from the body, then there will not be much in the way of nose running. While it is true that few people are fond of having a runny nose, many people report being able to breathe more clearly and feeling less head congestion after a plateful of hot Thai noodles and a few moments of wiping the nose. The health benefits often far outweigh the inconvenience of a couple moments of a runny nose.

Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including The Health Board, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By cloudel — On Oct 15, 2012

I will sometimes sprinkle chili powder on tortilla chips and eat them when my nose is congested. It's an instant sinus opener, and it wakes up my taste buds, too.

Often, when my nose is congested, I can't taste food. If I eat something spicy enough, the flavor can get through. It's really nice to be able to finally taste something after days of blandness.

By Kristee — On Oct 14, 2012

I get a runny nose like a baby when I eat Indian food. I have to bring several tissues in my purse, because I won't even be able to make it to the restroom without dripping!

I do feel a bit self-conscious wiping my nose at a table in front of everyone, though. I feel like all the other customers are looking at me and thinking that I'm disgusting. So, I tend to eat spicy food more at home than in public.

By shell4life — On Oct 13, 2012

@kylee07drg – I don't know whether or not it would last through the night, because I would never eat spicy foods late at night. They can give you indigestion and bad dreams.

However, I've eaten spicy food for lunch when I had a cold before, and the relief did last for several hours. I suppose once the capsaicin leaves your system, so does the relief.

You know how you can taste spicy food in your mouth long after you've eaten it? I would say that as long as the flavor remains, so will the relief.

By kylee07drg — On Oct 12, 2012

How long does the relief from eating spicy foods last? I've been taking decongestants for about a week, but they only last about three hours. If a spicy meal before bedtime could get me through the night, I would be more than willing to try it.

By anon74487 — On Apr 02, 2010

Just because you have a runny nose, it doesn't mean your body has wastes to eliminate. Your assumption is completely wrong. Mucus production doesn't stop if a person is clean. Mucus production isn't even linked to the expulsion of inside waste. It is for the prevention and elimination of waste from sources outside the body.

I don't know where you get your facts, but they are not medically sound.

By anon51864 — On Nov 09, 2009

Capsaicin binds to TRPV1 in your nervous system. This protein is an ion channel for Calcium ions and is temperature sensitive (active above body heat). Capsaicin binds to this protein, which drops the temperature it will work at. To alleviate this perceived "heat" the blood vessels in your periphery (ie. your nose) will move toward the surface and dilate, becoming more permeable. Because it is more permeable, it is more likely to leak fluid (ie. the nose run). The reason why it doesn't run every time you eat a spicy dish is because you can build up a tolerance to the receptor, requiring more capsaicin to achieve the same effect. If the dish isn't spicy enough, no nose run.

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
Learn more
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