Imagine you're eating an amazing dinner that's seasoned perfectly, but then out of nowhere, you are cursed with the worst, most uncontrollable sneeze. It’s not allergy season and you don’t remember having a cold, yet you suddenly find yourself reaching for the nearest tissue. According to science, the pepper in your food may be the culprit behind that dreadful, sudden sneeze. But why does pepper make you sneeze?

Why Pepper Makes Us Sneeze

Salt and pepper on table photo by André Robillard (@arsphtgrph) on Unsplash

Unsplash on unsplash

The black pepper we sprinkle on our food and see placed on our tables is a stimulant. The stimulant specifically contained in pepper is called piperine, and unfortunately piperine is also an irritant. When piperine, the irritant in pepper, comes into contact with these nerve endings, the pain and acidity receptors are triggered. This is how your body knows that piperine definitely doesn't belong there. You sneeze as a reflex to push out what does not belong. In this case, the pepper particles do not belong in your nose, so your body increases its activity to sneeze them out.

This is consistent with the fact that the human nose is designed to rid itself of foreign matter. A nerve cell acts as a barrier that recognizes particles, such as pepper, and triggers a powerful sneeze to clear the nasal cavity of any irritation. This sneeze is a reflex reaction so, unfortunately for your neighbors, it cannot be stopped.

Does That Mean Pepper Is Bad for You?

PepperCorns 0210 4610

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Though black pepper is an irritant, there's no need to stop adding it to your food. Pepper contains beneficial minerals, like potassium and calcium. Additionally, there are no long-term negative impacts on human health from ingesting black pepper. In fact, as a stimulant, pepper will dilate blood vessel size, which will increase circulation. This allows for easier digestion and a decrease in bloating.

While you're hopefully not putting pepper in your nose on purpose, don't worry the next time some finds its way up there. As gross as it sounds, you're bound to sneeze it out!