“Better than a sharp stick in the eye” is a useful adage. “I had to wrestle a frozen turd away from my beagle, but it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye,” you might say. “My breakfast burrito tastes disconcertingly gamey, but it’s better than a sharp stick in the eye,” you might also say. You know what’s worse than a sharp stick in the eye? A splash of jalapeño in the eye, that’s what. Even tiny amounts of spicy foods can cause blinding eye pain and injury. Fortunately, there are a few tactics you can try to ease the burn.
What to do when you get spicy food in your eye
First, some context. I was trawling Reddit this morning like the self-loathing cretin I am, and I stumbled upon an HRP (Highly Relatable Post). The post reads:
“Tonight my SO went out with the boys, and I was pretty excited to have the apt all to myself for a few hours. Money’s been tight, but I decided to treat myself with some bbq kettle chips. Sitting in the bed, I notice I got crumbs EVERYWHERE, (like a damn slob) and decide to sweep them out with my hand...
And fucking bbq kettle chip crumbs flew into my fucking eye.
Cue me screaming, my eye burning like Satan’s asshole drenched in holy water. I had to sprint to the bathroom and flush my eye under the sink, trying not to completely panic, and looking in the mirror to fish the soggy crumbs out.”
Dear God. While barbecue kettle chips certainly aren’t spicy like, say, a jalapeño, they’re covered in salt and seasonings that’ll make a grown man run screaming to the optometrist. So, what do you do in this scenario?
Don’t flush your eye with water
My apologies to the Redditor who fell prey to the kettle chips, but flushing your eye with water probably isn’t the best tactic here. Flushing your eye is generally a good idea, especially if, like the Redditor, you wind up with tiny crumbs in your eye. You’ll want to get those little devils out—but water probably isn’t your best bet, especially if you’ve got something extremely spicy like pepper juice in your eye.
Spicy peppers like jalapeños contain a chemical compound called capsaicin. This substance causes serious irritation and discomfort, but it’s not water-soluble—meaning water won’t relieve the pain. Instead, it’ll likely spread the burning.
Now, our tragic Redditor’s chip seasoning likely didn’t contain much, if any, capsaicin. For that reason, water was probably a moderately effective solution—but milk would’ve been even better.
Flush your eye with milk
If you’re fond of downing spicy foods, you know that a glass of milk can immediately ease the burn in your mouth. That’s because capsaicin is a fat-soluble compound; in other words, it gets broken down by dairy. If you get a spicy something in your eye—be it white-hot serrano juice or savory barbecue chip crumbs—plain cow’s milk is your best friend here.
There are two easy ways to flush your eyes with milk, and neither of them involve splashing milk onto your face out of the carton. First, you can soak a cotton ball in cold milk and place it over your eye. You can also soak a paper towel in milk, lie down on your back, and place it over your eye. The dairy should make contact with the irritants in your eye, neutralizing them and relieving your pain immediately.
Just remember to see a doctor if your pain worsens, or if you have trouble dislodging foreign bodies like chip crumbs from your eye.