Why Does Pepper Make You Sneeze?

Does a dash of pepper on your dinner leave a tickle in your nose?

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Nothing completes a meal like a little salt and pe… Ah! Ah! CHOOO! If you can’t sprinkle a little pepper on your eggs without letting out a sneeze, there’s a reason for that.

A sneeze is your body’s way of protecting you from irritants. It’s a natural reflex that’s triggered when an unwelcome guest—be it a harmless food spice or allergy-triggering pollen—stimulates the nerve endings in your nose. Your body and brain then work together to generate that powerful ACHOO!, which sends the invader flying. Learn more about why we sneeze here.

While your mouth may welcome pepper with open arms, your nose is not a fan. To your nose, pepper is an irritant that it wants to remove ASAP.

That’s because pepper contains an alkaloid called piperine. Alkaloids are organic compounds that have physiological effects on humans. You may recognize some other famous alkaloids:

  • Capsaicin, found in spicy foods

  • Nicotine, found in tobacco

  • Caffeine, found in your morning coffee

Piperine irritates those nerve endings in your nostrils, which can trigger a sneeze.

Love pepper? Don’t worry, it’s a safe spice—as long as it hits your lips and not your nostrils.