Hot versus Cold
The other day we talked about the benefit of mint and similar fragrances on nasal breathing. Eucalyptus, pine and other “cold” fragrances stimulate cold receptors (TRPM8) in the nose that tell your brain that you’re breathing. Today we’re going to talk about the opposite, what happens when you use “hot” chemicals in the nose? What do I mean by hot? Not necessarily temperature wise, but the way many of us refer to things as “spicy hot.” Typically, that “spicy hot” comes from a special ingredient found in peppers called capsaicin. The “hotness” of peppers, measured in Scoville units, relates to the density/concentration of capsaicinoids in the pepper. Pictured above is the Carolina Reaper pepper, named the hottest pepper in the world in 2017 by the Guiness World Records.
TRPV1 Pain Receptors
But what does this have to do with the nose? The reason we detect capsaicin as “hot” is because it stimulates a pain receptor in the nose called TRPV1 (transient receptor potential vanilloid 1). It’s thought that this same receptor detects the presence of other irritants in the nose. The result is a reflex of nasal congestion and mucous production. A recent study published in the International Forum for Allergy and Rhinology looked at the effect of regular capsaicin treatments for the nose. They found that regular use of dilute capsaicin improved nasal breathing and decreased reactivity. In essence they retrained the nose!!!
What does this mean?
It means that certain naturopathic treatments such as capsaicin can be used to improve nasal breathing. Azelastine (a prescription medication) has also shown the same thing in a few studies. But it also means that nasal congestion in the absence of allergies, may be triggered by some heightened sensitivity. We don’t know what causes that yet, though. But, next time you eat a hot pepper and you note that your nose congests and runs, think about how maybe if you keep doing it you’ll breathe better!
Management of Nasal Congestion
Capsaicin treatment may not be the right choice for everyone, and even if it could work, many won’t tolerate it. If this and other treatments fail, you may benefit from seeing a rhinologist who can help diagnose the cause of your nasal congestion. If more conservative measures don’t work, they may also recommend surgical treatments.
Either way, I’ll be sticking to the banana peppers on my pizza, they’re about as much as I can take!