When my dad was stringing up hot peppers to dry a few years ago, he accidentally squirted himself in the eye with the pepper juice. I don’t remember his exact reaction, but I do remember a frantic energy in the room as my mom helped him stick his head under the sink, where he stood for a good while letting cold water run over his face.
Pepper juice in the eye was a terrible experience for my dad. But, until last week, I didn’t understand why it hurt that badly. It was only pepper juice after all, and no more than a tiny drop got into his eye. Is it really that painful?
Absolutely, yes it is. Last week, I was cutting up a jalapeno, which, mind you, is not one of the hotter peppers. I sliced the jalapeno in half then seeded it, using my right thumb to push the seeds out of the pepper and into the trash can. I began cutting the pepper into a small dice and then…
You see where this is going. I squirted myself in the left eye with pepper juice. The burning was immediate and painful and – I’ll go one further here – unbearable.
That little squirt of juice forced my eyes shut, at which point I, on instinct, vigorously rubbed both eyes to get rid of the sting, using my right hand – the one that I had just used to seed the jalapenos and hadn’t washed – to wipe my unaffected right eye.
Smart. Both eyes were burning and I had to clench both of them tightly shut. I learned that rubbing a pepper extract-infected hand on the eyelid has the same effect as squirting pepper juice into the eyeball. But after 15 minutes of running cold water on my eyes, the pain passed.
If you are also hit with pepper juice in your eye one day, and it is the first time this has happened, you, like me, might think the burning is never going to stop. You’ll worry that, because you can’t open your eyes, you won’t be able to adequately flush them with cold water, and this will cause permanent vision damage.
Stay calm. Your eyes will be dry and red once they are fully flushed but that passes. And the burning will too. Here’s what to do:
- Never touch your eyes with your tainted hot pepper hands.When my eyes were burning, my first instinct was to wipe them with the closest, most handy tool – my hands. Resist the urge to do this; this left me with two burning eyes instead of one. Of course, in the moment, it’s difficult to remember reason and logic and you too might end up flushing both eyes.
- Flush your eyes with cold water until you feel you can open them again. I’ve read that you should flush your eyes for 5 minutes; I held my eyes under water for 15. Like I said, you won’t be able to open your eye, so in this step you are sticking your clenched-shut eye under water (alternating if both eyes have been hit) until the burning begins to subside and you feel you can open them again.
- Add one or two drops of Visine to each eye.Honestly, my eye felt the same before and after I used the Visine. But perhaps this step serves some internal flushing purpose, one that is not immediately obvious to the eye.
To prevent hot pepper burning from ever happening, this is the most important tip: wash your hands immediately after handling hot peppers. You will read this advice everywhere. But in my experience, the pepper essence doesn’t immediately come off of your hands, even if you use soap. Exercise caution for a while after handling the peppers.
As a last resort to prevent burning, especially if you are working with a lot of peppers, you might want to consider wearing gloves.