Sunday, September 19, 2010
Oh no, my eye!
I received a fairly frantic phone call from my brother-in-law the other day. He had been slicing a jalapeno, and before washing his hands, accidentally rubbed his eye. Not good. If you've ever been in that situation, I'm sure you know why the burning and stinging was bad enough to call me and ask what to do.
I have been in this situation before. Its not fun. I've cut hot peppers and then absentmindedly touched my face, leaving a big red stripe on my cheek all throughout dinner. Real cute. Capsaicin, that unfriendly little oil that lives deep inside peppers and burns the living daylights out of your mouth, and whatever else it comes in contact with, is a pretty resilient monster. And to be honest, there's not a magic fix-it that will make the burning instantly stop. That's why pepper spray is such an effective self-defense tool. I'm sorry, but there are no ninja skills on the planet that make a hot pepper not burn- especially if you rub it in your eye. There are a few things that can take the potential for 8 hours of burning and cut it back to 45 minutes or so. Let's talk.
First of all, plain old water won't do a whole lot. Capsaicin is an oil and it needs something stronger than water to rinse it away. That's like trying to rinse out a frying pan full of oil with water- its not going to do jack squat. Weirdly enough though, If you want to help remove capsaicin from your hands, rub some vegetable oil on your hands and then wash that off with soap and COLD* water. Make sure you get underneath your nails too. The Pepper Spray Store (yes, there is one) recommends using Dawn soap over other brands. I'd try it myself if I was willing to sacrifice my own comfort for the sake of science, but my eyes are already burning from Drano fumes coming out of my clogged kitchen sink, which would be a huge variable and won't give me an authentic result. Um, yeah. That's why I can't rub jalapeno in my eye today. Right.
Milk- There's a protein in milk called casein that loves fat. Since capsaicin is a fat, casein will surround it and help remove it from you skin and carry it away like a magic little dump truck. Opti Free (the saline and eye care company) recommends using milk on your skin to help alleviate the pain by first soaking the area in cold milk, and then washing with soap and water. While they don't suggest using milk to soak your eye, there's no good reason why you can't perform a little eye flush with cold milk. Is it the best idea to put food on your eye? Not always. Is it going to make you go blind? No. I'm pretty sure I'd put milk, lint, bologna, whatever in my eye if someone told me it would get rid of the pain. Put milk in a shot glass and tip your head over it. Press the glass against your eye and tilt your head back, letting the milk cover your eye. I know its hard, but try to keep your eye open and blink as much as you can. Oh, and milk alternatives won't work. Tempting, but almond, soy, and rice milk are too big a wussies to fight that mean capsaicin.
Saline- Pretty much the safest thing you can put on your eye. Your tears are natural saline, so squeezing a bottle of saline (you know, that salt water stuff people store their contacts in) into your eye and washing it out as much as you can will help. Again, this isn't going to make the pain go away instantly. Its just like eating spicy food: the heat eventually fades away, it doesn't just stop all of a sudden. If you buy an eye flush or have one of those fancy first aid kits that includes an eye flush, its made of the exact same thing.
You're going to want to keep your eyes closed, but try and blink as much as you can. Your eyes will produce natural tears that are trying really hard to get the burn out. Good job, tears.
Oh, and make sure you wash your hands lots and lots before you use the bathroom. Just like it stings your eyes, capsaicin will sting you everywhere else- even in the places the sun doesn't shine. And its a lot harder to put milk on those places... Just read the comments about bad jalapeno stories on my Facebook fan page for proof of your own.
For prevention next time,or if you're just really sensitive to capsaicin, you can always cut peppers while wearing rubber gloves. Not latex gloves: rubber gloves. The big yellow ones. Capsaicin will make its way through latex. Just remember that if you use rubber gloves, to wash those after as well. Le duh.
* Why cold water and not hot? Capsaicin affects nerve endings called VR1 receptors, which normally change shape when they detect heat. Capsaicin tricks them into changing shape without actually feeling hot temperatures-- you'll even sweat and everything. If you use hot water, the VR1 receptors will deform even more, which is what the capsaicin is already doing. Long story short? It makes you feel even hotter.