Why Do Spicy Foods Make Your Nose Run?

iStock/YelenaYemchuk
iStock/YelenaYemchuk

Hot sauces, curries, wasabi peas and other spicy treats turn you into a snot faucet. Why is that?

Capsaicin is the chemical found concentrated in the placental tissue of chile peppers and allyl isothiocyanate is an oil contained in plants like mustard and radishes (including horseradish). Plants use both of these chemicals as biological weapons against predatory animals. They irritate pretty much any soft tissue they come in contact with, which is what causes the wonderful burning sensation on your tongue. But they also cause the painful sting of post-chile-handling eye contact and a seriously runny nose. When your mucous membranes get hit by these chemicals, they become inflamed and go into defense mode. This means producing mucous to trap allergens and other undesirables, and keeping them out of your respiratory system by removing them via the nasal passage.

You might have noticed that if you’ve got a cold and are congested, the runny nose effect of spicy foods can make you feel a little better. Don’t be fooled by the healing properties of hot and sour soup and buffalo wings, though, because the relief is only temporary and really just makes things worse in the long run.

Capsaicin and allyl isothiocyanate’s irritation can cause the dilator naris muscle in your nose to temporarily allow more air to enter. Receptors in your nose then tell your brain that you’re breathing easier. It’s all an elaborate ruse, though, and when the effect of the heat wears off, you’re back to your old stuffy self, with plenty of extra snot brought on by your meal to boot!

What Does 'State of Emergency' Really Mean?

Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Firefighters battle a state of emergency.
Phonix_a/iStock via Getty Images

Local and state officials across the U.S. are declaring states of emergency in their efforts to manage the coronavirus pandemic. Some entire countries, including Italy and Japan, have also declared a state of emergency. But what does this phrase really entail?

Local and State Response

The answer varies a bit from state to state. Essentially, declaring a state of emergency gives the governor and his or her emergency management team a bit of extra latitude to deal with a situation quickly and with maximum coordination. Most of these powers are straightforward: The governor can close state offices, deploy the National Guard and other emergency responders, and make evacuation recommendations.

Other powers are specific to a certain situation. For example, in a blizzard, a governor can impose travel restrictions to clear roads for snowplows and other emergency vehicles.

Calling in the Feds

If a disaster is so severe that state and local governments don’t have the cash or the logistical ability to adequately respond, the governor can ask for a declaration of a federal emergency. In this case, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) does a preliminary damage assessment to help determine whether the governor should petition the president for a federal emergency declaration.

When the declaration from the president comes through, state and local governments can get funding and logistical help from the feds. What makes a crisis a federal emergency? The list is pretty broad, but FEMA shares some criteria here.

Why Does Hand Sanitizer Have an Expiration Date?

Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
Hand sanitizer does expire. Here's why.
galitskaya/iStock via Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has turned hand sanitizer from something that was once idly tossed into cars and drawers into a bit of a national obsession. Shortages persist, and people are trying to make their own, often to little avail. (DIY sanitizer may not be sterile or contain the proper concentration of ingredients.)

If you do manage to get your hands on a bottle of Purell or other name-brand sanitizer, you may notice it typically has an expiration date. Can it really go “bad” and be rendered less effective?

The short answer: yes. Hand sanitizer is typically made up of at least 60 percent alcohol, which is enough to provide germicidal benefit when applied to your hands. According to Insider, that crucial percentage of alcohol can be affected over time once it begins to evaporate after the bottle has been opened. As the volume is reduced, so is the effectiveness of the solution.

Though there’s no hard rule on how long it takes a bottle of sanitizer to lose alcohol content, manufacturers usually set the expiration date three years from the time of production. (Because the product is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, it has to have an expiration date.)

Let's assume you’ve found a bottle of old and forgotten sanitizer in your house somewhere. It expired in 2018. Should you still use it? It’s not ideal, but if you have no other options, even a reduced amount of alcohol will still have some germ-fighting effectiveness. If it’s never been opened, you’re in better shape, as more of the alcohol will have remained.

Remember that sanitizer of any potency is best left to times when soap and water isn’t available. Consider it a bridge until you’re able to get your hands under a faucet. There’s no substitution for a good scrub.

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