What happens if you eat spicy food with a sore throat?

Eating spicy foods when you have a sore throat can be painful and make symptoms worse. The capsaicin in chili peppers causes a burning sensation which can further irritate an already inflamed throat. However, some people still crave and enjoy spicy foods even with a sore throat. Here’s a look at what happens when you eat spicy food with a sore throat and tips to minimize discomfort.

Capsaicin Causes Burning and Irritation

Capsaicin is the compound in chili peppers that gives them their heat and spicy kick. When you eat it, capsaicin binds to pain receptors in the mouth and throat triggering an intense burning sensation. This is why spicy foods like chili peppers, hot sauce, and curries cause a temporary burning feeling in the mouth and throat.

If you have an existing sore throat from a cold, strep throat, laryngitis, or other condition that has caused throat inflammation and pain, the capsaicin in spicy foods will further irritate the already aggravated nerves and tissues. The burning sensation will be more intense and painful. This can make symptoms like pain and discomfort worse.

Increased Mucus Production

Eating spicy food when you have a sore throat may also trigger increased mucus production as the body tries to soothe the burning feeling. The capsaicin can cause irritation and inflammation in throat tissues prompting excess mucus secretion. This can lead to coughing or throat clearing as well as a feeling of phlegm stuck in the throat.

Increased mucus and throat clearing can also further aggravate pain from the sore throat. While the mucus helps coat and temporarily protect irritated tissues, excess amounts may make you feel like you constantly need to cough to clear your throat.

Can Promote Circulation and Temporary Relief

Some proponents of eating spicy food with a sore throat believe that capsaicin may help relieve symptoms. Capsaicin triggers inflammation and increased blood flow to irritated areas. This boost in circulation may promote healing and temporary numbness in a sore throat. However, any relief is often short-lived before the burning sensation returns and worsens existing pain and inflammation.

Can Cause Swelling

The irritation and inflammation caused by eating spicy foods with a sore throat may also cause swelling. Capsaicin can trigger fluid accumulation and edema in irritated tissues as the body responds to the damage. This can lead to swollen, inflamed taste buds and throat tissues making symptoms like pain, swallowing difficulties, and hoarseness worse.

How Long Does the Burning Last?

When you eat spicy foods with a sore throat, the burning sensation and irritation to throat tissues usually lasts from 30 minutes up to a few hours depending on the individual and how much capsaicin was consumed. In some cases, the aggravated pain can persist for up to a day after eating very spicy foods like chili peppers or hot sauce.

Drinking milk, yogurt, ice cream and other dairy products can help mute the burn since caseins in dairy bind with capsaicin to wash it away. Starchy foods like bread and rice may also help absorb some of the heat. Sugary foods and drinks temporarily mask the burn with sweetness. But cooling and soothing foods and liquids are your best option for fast relief.

Tips to Minimize Discomfort

If you are craving spicy food but want to avoid aggravating a sore throat, here are some tips to minimize irritation and discomfort:

  • Avoid very spicy foods and opt for mild salsa, curry dishes, buffalo wings etc. instead of extreme heat.
  • Cut back on the amount of hot sauce, chili flakes or other spicy seasonings added.
  • Choose cooking methods like steaming, baking or sautéing instead of raw onions, peppers, chilies etc.
  • Cook spicy dishes thoroughly as longer cooking times can mellow some of the heat.
  • Add soothing ingredients like coconut milk, yogurt, butter or cream to curries and chili.
  • Drink cooling liquids like cold water, smoothies, yogurt drinks and ice cream.
  • Have dairy products, breads, rice and starchy foods to help absorb capsaicin.
  • Avoid irritants like smoking, alcohol, caffeine and citrus juices.
  • Rinse your mouth with warm salt water to remove chili particles.
  • Suck on lozenges, cough drops or hard candies to coat and numb your throat.
  • Take OTC pain relievers to reduce swelling and discomfort.
  • Get plenty of rest and drink fluids to stay hydrated.

When to Avoid Spicy Foods Completely

Those with moderate to severe sore throat pain or difficulty swallowing due to conditions like strep throat or tonsillitis should avoid spicy foods completely. The capsaicin can make swallowing problems and intense throat pain much worse. Stick to bland, cool and soothing foods and beverages.

People with chronic throat conditions like acid reflux or who are prone to gastritis may also want to steer clear of anything spicy during flare ups. Spicy food can aggravate these conditions and cause stomach pain on top of throat discomfort.

If your sore throat is accompanied by a fever, swollen glands, pus on the tonsils or other concerning symptoms, see your doctor as these may be signs of a bacterial or viral infection that requires treatment.


Eating spicy foods when you already have a sore throat from illness or overuse can definitely make symptoms worse. The capsaicin in chili peppers causes a painful burning sensation in the inflamed throat tissue. It also triggers mucus production and irritation that can lead to coughing, discomfort and swelling. While the irritation may temporarily boost circulation, any relief is short-lived before the burning sensation returns. To minimize discomfort, avoid very spicy foods or cut back the amount of heat. Drink plenty of cool, soothing liquids and stick to mild foods that are easy to swallow until your sore throat heals.

Foods to Avoid Soothing Foods
  • Raw chilies and peppers
  • Hot sauce and salsa
  • Curries and chili
  • Spicy stir fries or fajitas
  • Cajun or Creole dishes
  • Buffalo wings
  • Broths and soups
  • Smoothies
  • Yogurt
  • Popsicles
  • Ice cream
  • Jello
  • Oatmeal
  • Mashed potatoes

When to See a Doctor

See your doctor if your sore throat:

  • Lasts longer than a week
  • Is accompanied by severe pain
  • Makes breathing, swallowing, or talking difficult
  • Comes with swollen glands, fever, headache or rash

These may be signs of a bacterial infection like strep throat that requires medical treatment with antibiotics. Seeking prompt treatment can help prevent complications like sinus or ear infections.

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