Migraine Treatment Experiences: Capsaicin Nose Spray

Capsaicin is the active ingredient in pepper spray — yes the same stuff used to subdue unruly prisoners in your local penal institution.

It is also the chemical used in research to trigger the pain response because it is universally, and powerfully effective in doing just that — evoking pain.

Capsaicin is extremely potent. When applied to the skin it has lingering effects and can last literally for days. I have had back trouble most of my life and have used strong capsaicin creams when my back was especially bad. To reactivate it after a day or so, simply sweat, or get it a little wet in the shower and *wheeeee!*

Directions on the labels of capsaicin creams generally tell the person applying the hot stuff to wear gloves. There is a very good reason for this. It is difficult if not nearly impossible to wash off with any ease at all, and if you use your fingers to apply it then accidentally touch the corner of your nose or eyes, you’ll know it and remember those gloves the next time. (Can you tell I’m speaking from experience?)

I am generally not considered an especially crazy person, but when I was faced with 2 doctors who told me my chronic intractable Migraine was “hopeless” and there was nothing else they could do to help me, I gave up. At first that is. But my pain was unbearable, so in desperation I figured, what have I got to lose? Nothing. I began to look for alternative methods of treating my daily pain which was so bad that yes, I even tried — and for a while used — capsaicin nose spray.

There are a couple brands currently available over the counter or through the mail. All contain varying amounts of the active ingredient — capsaicin. The literature on it says that capsaicin helps to inhibit substance P and this is how it supposedly treats cluster headache and Migraine.

Substance P is a protein found in the brain and spinal cord and was discovered in 1931. Although it is involved in several physiological functions, its primary function seems to be the transmission of pain signals. The theory is, if we can find a way to inhibit substance P or the body’s reaction to it, we might be able to treat pain. Massage therapy also inhibits substance P, but I digress… This is where capsaicin comes into play.

Apparently, by purposefully sniffing pepper spray up my nose it might help stop the transmission of pain signals currently using my trigeminal nerves as a super highway. Of course, some of the literature I was reading said this could take months to actually occur.

It was fairly inexpensive, required no prescription and wouldn’t interact with the meds I was currently taking. I was in such pain I couldn’t imagine life continuing on much longer like that, so I had literally nothing to lose by trying it.

I admit that when it arrived I was both excited and afraid. I was not anxious to purposefully snort pepper spray (especially after my previous experience with topical cream — I had a pretty good idea what I was in for) and despite the pain that was already ruining my life, it took me a little while to get up the nerve to take my first sniff.

But I did.

It took far fewer guts to order the bottle with the highest amount of capsaicin in it I could find, than it did to actually use it.

The first sniff and I thought someone had rammed a red hot poker up my nose and through my brain behind my eye. Thankfully the feeling only lasted a minute or so. While that poker was up my nose, I forgot about my Migraine. Actually, I have to admit that the spray kind of helped me because for a little while (minutes) after using it, I did feel somewhat better.

It was a moment’s pain for a couple moment’s relief. It was enough for me. I would take that little relief, that tiny respite from my pain and put up with the whole hot poker up my nose thing.

I continued using the bottle until it and the next 2 bottles that came in my box were gone. By the time they were used up, I had a new neurologist who I had finally convinced to test my B12 level. We’d found a problem and I was feeling a little better with injections.

I can’t tell you if the spray was really doing what it was supposed to (inhibit substance P) or just that it was such a shock to my nerves that they didn’t know what to do with themselves for a few moments. The relief never lasted long, but sometimes it was enough that I could survive a few hours until my next dose. For me, that was enough.

I’ve been asked if I would suggest other patients try it. I guess my reply would still be — check with your doctor. If they give the okay, and you have the guts to try it, then why not? Now that I know massage therapy does the same thing I’d personally give that a go first, but if you are like I was, and you have nothing else to try and nothing to lose, then there is nothing but the potential for gain…

Or a red hot poker up your nose and into your brain.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.
View References
Substance P – Compound Summary.National Library of Medicine. http://pubchem.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/summary/summary.cgi?cid=36511. Accessed May, 2012.

Comments

View Comments (26)
  • LibrarianTara
    2 years ago

    Long before I realized my headaches were migraines (I mistakenly thought I had sinus pain from allergies), I discovered that if I ate hot spicy food, my headache would go away for about 20-30 minutes. I figured it worked because it made my nose run and unclogged my sinuses. I kept some spicy kimchi in the fridge so I could dose myself every 20-30 minutes when my head hurt. I later learned the pain wasn’t from allergies, and it wasn’t the runny nose that was providing relief. I don’t remember when I started using Sinus Buster, but it works fast and it works well for me, but still just for 20-30 minutes. Often that’s long enough to keep a beginning headache at bay until the rescue meds take effect. I’ve made a batch of hard candies with cayenne pepper extract. If I can manage to have any self-control, I can tuck a candy into my cheek and keep it there for a long time, so it seems like the relief lasts longer.

  • Paul
    3 years ago

    “I suffered from chronic headaches — diagnosed by the New England Center for Headache, Stamford , CT , as combined tension/migraine/rebound — for decades. I self-treated with Excedrin and, for 10 years after diagnosis, with prescribed Fioricet and Fioricet with codeine, if needed. Numerous preventive drugs either didn’t work or caused unacceptable side effects. There was no end in sight. Then, my doctor at the Center, Dr. Alan Rapoport, who had done research on capsaicin as a preventive for cluster headaches, tried me on a sample of Sinol spray, based on capsaicin. It was miraculous. Within 3 months, I was off all meds and was using Sinol only occasionally; within 6 months, I was off Sinol too. I still keep it around for the rare occasion when, e.g., wine or oriental spicy food might trigger a mild headache, but my headaches have now been essentially gone for several years. Based on my experience, Sinol nasal spray is something that should be brought to the attention of your readers, especially for breaking the al years. Based on my experience, Sinol nasal spray is something that should be brought to the attention of your readers, especially for breaking the rebound effect. It doesn’t have a horrible burn like described and it is similar to a menthol wasabi type feeling. I liked it very much. It is available over the Internet at drugstore.com or at http://www.sinolusa.com and at several retail establishments.”

  • Heather Benton
    5 years ago

    Interesting stuff! Now I must ask is anyone from Canada?
    Or do you know you know if this is available in Canada?
    I have never heard of it before and I read a lot about migraines, have tried everything medication wise. Over more than 35 years! Now I am taking nothing because I just am that frustrated….
    Thanks for all the information~~

  • Michele Harris
    3 years ago

    Ausanil is available from Amazon.com or Ausanil.com

  • Janet Geddis
    7 years ago

    I tried this spray for a bit and had nearly the same reaction. The pain was gone for a few minutes if I sniffed during a bad migraine attack, but I didn’t notice any long-term effects. But in the throes of terrible migraine pain, I was willing to sniff pepper spray for a few moments’ relief!

  • Michele Harris
    3 years ago

    Ausanil should not be sniffed up – it works on the sensory (Trigeminal) nerves found in the mucous membrane lining of the nostrils. Sniffing it up, or inhaling it, will increase the stinging sensation and does not increase efficacy. Following directions for use enclosed in the packaging is important!!

  • Marlene Rossman
    7 years ago

    Ellen, I bought a pepper spray at CVS. It is the kind that you carry for self defense.
    I am terrified to spry it up my nose. I can, of course, use a Qtip, but how do you do it?

  • Michele Harris
    3 years ago

    Ausanil is specifically formulated to provide fast relief – yes it does sting, but if you use it correctly, and do not inhale it or sniff it up, it may help you! Like all medications, it may not help everyone, but it is providing relief for thousands of people.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    @Marlene Rossman – I don’t know if the strength is the same etc. First, never try something without talking to your doctor first okay? I would hate for you to get hurt. Second, try to find a spray specifically for headache relief. I’m not sure CVS would have one as we’re not lucky enough to have one near here. I wish I could reference the specific one I used, but to be honest, it was so long ago, and there are several kinds out now that I don’t think were around *back then* that I am not sure which one it was. Your doctor may be able to recommend the best brand when you talk to him/her. Good luck – I hope it works for you, even just a tiny bit 🙂

  • Sandra Rolfe Colacino
    7 years ago

    I have tried the capsaicin spray, and in fact I have some in my cabinet at home now. I tried it after I read that there were reputable studies done on it for migraine and cluster headache. I was surprised that my dr at the time, who was one of the drs conducting the clinical trials, had never mentioned it to me. Interestingly, the first brand I tried (sinol) did not burn my nose after I had used it a few times. This was the one that was used in the clinical trials I read about. I threw it away eventually and currently have a different brand that I picked up in a health food store. It still burns like hell, but it doesn’t do anything for my head. I keep trying, though, esp when I have maxed out on my meds and having nothing to lose.

  • Michele Harris
    3 years ago

    If you visit the Ausanil.com site there is a lot of information available.

  • Sandra Rolfe Colacino
    7 years ago

    I just tried it again a little while ago (I’m stubborn). I decided the few seconds of burning nasal passages aren’t as bad as the migraine that compels you to use it in the first place. I can’t say it’s helping, but I don’t feel worse. I was just trying to do a search to find a link to the studies I originally read about. the Busterbrands.com site has a page of references to studies, but they mostly are about capsaicin use in allergic rhinitis, and one regarding cluster headache. I’m curious about the Sinol because it didn’t give me a burning sensation after a few uses, and according to the label, that’s part of how it works. I wonder if mine had lost it’s potency? I’m using Headache Busters now, and it definitely has retained it’s burning capabilities.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    @Sandra Rolfe Colacino – I’m so sorry it’s not helping at all. It’s funny how just a few moments of relief would allow me to get back on top of the pain and I could endure it a little longer. I’m sad it doesn’t at least do that little bit for you. 🙁

  • Janene Zielinski
    7 years ago

    All I can say is “Wow”. Thanks for sharing. You’ve given me a lot to think about – especially when it comes to our desperation to lessen pain.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Janene, at the time, after being labeled first chronic, then intractable, then *hopeless* I didn’t feel that I had any choice to be honest. I had to try even the way-out things just to stay sane. I could live moment to moment so long as there was a light at the end of the tunnel – hope. When they tried to take that away from me – like many who visit this site – I had to find my own. Nobody else was going to help me, so there really was no choice… I’m glad I found it and gave it a “shot” (lol).

  • Pamela Troutwine
    7 years ago

    I have suffered with migraines since I was 10 years old, been to chiropracters had 1st ct scan then an many mri’s done, but nothing.Tried just about every pill they can think of an that I can afford.But never this it’s worth a try.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Remember the importance of talking to your doctor before changing your current management. Even OTC products can, for some individuals, be unsafe. Maybe he/she will be able to recommend a specific brand too.

  • Tammy Elder Rome
    7 years ago

    ROFLMAO! Thanks, Ellen, for that trip down memory lane. When I first started having cluster headaches I would use Q-Tips soaked in capsicum tincture for relief. I’m with you on not knowing whether it helped or not, but the temporary relief was just what I needed at the time. So glad you’re getting a little less painful treatment with the B12 shots.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Goodness @Tammy Elder Rome – I’m not sure I would have the guts to do the Q-tip thing. It was hard enough getting up the guts to spray and sniff it high into my sinuses. The idea of getting a Q-tip up that high is scary *Yikes!* Did you have to sniff it up like the nose spray, or apply it directly?

  • Jamie Sohn
    7 years ago

    my local HA specialist has mentioned this as something he’s had decent results with. When I had the cream on my neck, I was miserable. And yes, I know all about the “it doesn’t come off factor!”

    Thus, not sure of how I feel as something I’m really keen on trying, but it was definitely interesting to read your experience.

    Perhaps I’ll give it a shot…wonder if the lower concentration would be something to try first and then work up the “hard stuff?”

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Jamie Sohn Why don’t you talk to your doctor first, and there might be something he/she can recommend specifically for you. Honestly, I think if I hadn’t started out with the potent stuff, I probably would have bailed on the therapy, because I’m not sure it would have worked. Not everyone is the same though.

  • Kathy Hook Fischer
    7 years ago

    I tried it before years ago I felt it helped a few times.

  • Kathy Hook Fischer
    7 years ago

    Yes I do it was the original sinus buster ! I had it back in 2004 or 2005 I bought 2 bottles I loved it! emailing pic of how it looked they changed the bottle now

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    Hi Kathy Hook Fischer – Do you per chance remember the brand you used?

  • Aaron Day
    7 years ago

    Wow…I can see that being a shock to the system. I have been sprayed during riot training, and it is not an experience I would really say I would want to repeat…but for those few moments of relief, that is tough call.

  • Ellen Schnakenberg
    7 years ago

    I think it’s all about your perspective. When you’ve been told there is nothing to help you, we tend to become desperate enough to try about anything. Compared to some of the other things I’ve tried in the past, this seemed fairly innocuous – – if you discount the immediate shock of the first spray, lol. Honestly, I have considered buying another batch of it just to give me back those few moments of pain relief once in a while when I’m intractable. In the past, that let me get back on top of things again when I really didn’t know how I would get ahead of the pain.

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