Using Capsaicin for Nasal Symptoms

Capsaicin is the substance found in hot red and chili peppers and it's responsible for the burning sensation that occurs when eating these foods. When capsaicin comes into contact with mucous membranes and skin, the body’s pain sensors are stimulated, which leads to the classic symptoms of burning, stinging and a sensation of heat.

Capsaicin has a wide variety of uses, including as a spice, an herbal supplement, a self-defense weapon (pepper spray), and as a topical pain medication. Capsaicin also has been used as a nasal spray to treat the effects of non-allergic rhinitis.

Woman using allergy relief nasal spray
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How Does Capsaicin Work?

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in over-the-counter (OTC) topical pain medications, such as Zostrix, which are used for treating pain associated with rheumatoid arthritis, diabetic neuropathy, and post-herpetic neuralgia.

Capsaicin acts on the nerve fibers that transmit pain, decreasing the amount of a chemical called substance P, which tells the nervous system to signal pain. With the continued application of topical capsaicin, the amount of substance P is decreased, thereby lessening the body's ability to sense pain at the site of application.

What Is Non-Allergic Rhinitis?

Non-allergic rhinitis is a chronic nasal condition not caused by allergies. It typically results in symptoms of nasal congestion, runny nose, sinus pressure, and post-nasal drip. The most common form of non-allergic rhinitis is vasomotor rhinitis, which is caused by an abnormal response of the nervous system in the nose to irritant stimuli, such as strong odors and changes in temperature and humidity.

Capsaicin for the Treatment of Non-Allergic Rhinitis

The use of capsaicin nasal spray has been studied for the treatment of non-allergic rhinitis. Researchers at the University of Cincinnati sought to compare the effects of a capsaicin nasal spray (marketed under the brand Sinus Buster) for the treatment of non-allergic rhinitis symptoms. Study volunteers were given capsaicin nasal spray or placebo nasal spray twice a day for two weeks, and their nasal symptoms were measured throughout the study.

The study found that there was a dramatic improvement in most of the non-allergic rhinitis symptoms over the course of the two-week treatment period, in particular, nasal congestion, sinus pressure, sinus pain, and headache. Many of these symptoms (including nasal congestion, sinus pressure, and headache) improved very quickly, within a minute of using the capsaicin nasal spray. Side effects were minimal and limited to a mild stinging sensation that lasted only for a short time.

Capsaicin represents another all-natural, non-drug option for the treatment of non-allergic rhinitis. It has been shown to be safe and effective for the treatment of various nasal symptoms, particularly nasal congestion and sinus pressure, caused by vasomotor rhinitis. While capsaicin may also be useful for the treatment of allergic rhinitis, there are not enough studies to support its use for this condition.

Other Therapies for the Treatment of Non-Allergic Rhinitis

There are few treatments that are effective for the treatment of non-allergic rhinitis. Many traditional therapies for allergies, such as oral antihistamines and allergy shots, are not helpful for the symptoms of non-allergic rhinitis.

Medications that are at least partially effective include nasal steroid sprays, nasal antihistamine sprays, nasal anti-cholinergic sprays, and oral decongestants. Nasal saline may also useful.

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  2. Leader P, Geiger Z. Vasomotor Rhinitis. StatPearls Publishing. Updated October 3, 2019.

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Additional Reading
  • Bernstein JA, et al. A Randomized, Double-Blind, Parallel Trial Comparing Capsaicin Nasal Spray with Placebo in Subjects with a Significant Component of Nonallergic Rhinitis. Ann Allergy Asthma Immunol. 2011;107;171-8.