Most acute, or sudden onset, coughs accompany a cold or the flu. Chronic coughing, however, is more likely associated with smoking, allergies, asthma or another disorder, according to MedlinePlus, a division of the National Institutes of Health. Cayenne pepper, the red-hot spice used to flavor south-of-the-border cuisine, may ease some types of acute coughs, but it isn’t risk-free. See your doctor about a chronic cough that persists despite home treatment.
The medicinal use of cayenne, or Capsicum frutescen, C., dates back to early Colombian civilizations, according to the “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine.” The small bright red fruits of the plant contain capsaicin, which produces intense burning on contact with mucus membranes like those in the mouth and throat. However, clinical studies confirming the properties and effects of cayenne for treating coughs are lacking.
Cayenne’s Effect on Coughing
Despite its tendency to sting, cayenne is also an analgesic that reduces the sensation of pain by blocking Substance P, a component that transmits sensation to the brain. If you’re coughing because your throat tickles or hurts, drinking cayenne tea can desensitize the tickling and reduce coughing, the Gale Encyclopedia advises. For coughs caused by sinus congestion, an article in the February 2007 issue of “Fitness" magazine recommends sprinkling cayenne on your food to thin mucus secretions and clear congested nasal passages.
Administration and Method
You can stir 1/4 teaspoon of dried cayenne pepper, available at your local grocery store, into 1 or 2 cups of cold or warm water to make a cayenne drink to sip slowly. Alternately, follow the magazine’s suggestion and add cayenne to your foods to stimulate secretions and reduce throat irritation.
The cure in the case of cayenne may be worse than the cough being treated, because some people find the pepper's burning sensation intolerable, especially on a tender, raw throat. Also, contact with cayenne may trigger coughing in people who take ACE inhibitors to regulate their blood pressure, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center.
Do not give cayenne in any form to small children, due to a risk of a severe respiratory event.
Cayenne may irritate the stomach and may interfere with other medications including antacids, blood thinners, asthma medications and other drugs. Talk to your doctor before using cayenne to treat any medical condition.
- MedlinePlus: Cough, June 2011
- “Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine”; Jacqueline L. Longe; 2005
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Cayenne
- “Fitness Magazine”; 5 Foods That Fight Colds and Coughs; February 2007