Several times a year I get an email or phone call requesting immediate help from a frantic, unfortunate individual that has burning hands, a burning eye, nose or a mouth full of fire after exposure to some hot Chile peppers. HELP I'm on FIRE!!
"Hunan Hand" is the nick name given to a skin irritation condition caused by contact with Capsaicinoids, the hot substances in hot Chile peppers. The name is in honor of an unfortunate man who burst into a Chicago clinic, waving his hands franticly and moaning in pain. With much difficulty he described that he had been preparing a Hunan Chinese dish with hot peppers. You can also get "Hunan Eye", "Human Nose" and a "Chile Willie" or "Hot Clams" depending on your sex. The later is obtained when a person with capsaicin contaminated hands makes a visit to the rest room to drain his or hers bladder.
"drink milk, eat ice-cream or yogurt"
Capsaicinoids are chemicals that have no flavor or odor. They are unaffected by cooking, grinding or freezing. They are only soluble in fats, alcohol and some oils. They don't dissolved in water (oil and water don't mix ). This is why drinking large quantities of water after accepting a dare to eat an extra hot Habanero Chile won't stop the burning, but may make it worse by redistributing the Capsaicinoids. Downing a cold beer is the traditional remedy, but the small percentage of alcohol will not wash away much capsaicin. To get some relief from a chile burn (can't think of a good reason not to "Enjoy the heat"), drink milk, eat ice-cream or yogurt, or wash an affected area of skin with same milk. Milk contains casein, a lipophilic (fat-loving) substance that surrounds and washes away the fatty capsaicin molecules in much the same way that soap washes away grease. Altho its not much of a comfort, just remember the old saying "This to will pass", in time.
The perception that peppers are "hot" is not an accident. The capsaicin key opens a door in the cell membrane that allows calcium ions to flood into the cell. That ultimately triggers a pain signal that is transmitted to the next cell. When the cells are exposed to heat, the same events occur. Chile burns and heat burns are similar at the molecular, cellular, and sensory levels.
Paradoxically, capsaicin's ability to cause pain makes it useful in alleviating pain. Exposure to capsaicin lowers sensitivity to pain, and it is applied as a counter irritant in the treatment of arthritis and other chronically painful conditions.
The capsaicinoids are unique compared to other hot spicy substances, such as piperine (black pepper) and gingerol (ginger) in that capsaicin causes a long-lasting selective desensitization to the pain and discomfort, as a result of repeated doses. The result is an increasing ability to tolerate ever hotter foods and permits one to assume the title of "Chile-Head" or "CH" for short.
"capsaicin excites the nervous system into producing endorphins"
People that eat lots of spicy capsaicin-rich foods build up a tolerance to it. The incentive: Once a person has become somewhat desensitized to the extreme heat of the "hotter" Chiles, he or she can starts on a new culinary journey. Not being over powered by the heat factor, the palate now has the ability to explore the many diverse flavors offered by the myriad of different Chiles that are currently available from around the world. Also for some Chile-Heads a good jolt of capsaicin excites the nervous system into producing endorphins, which promote a pleasant sense of well-being that can last several hours. The endorphin lift or "high", makes spicy foods mildly addictive and for some, an obsession.
Prevention is the best remedy for the "Human" condition, when handling hot Chile peppers, ALWAYS wear a pair of disposable gloves and preferably eye protection too.