Would you like some hot sauce with that injury?

AP/ NY Times:

Devil's Revenge. Spontaneous Combustion. Hot sauces have names like that for a reason. Now scientists are testing if the stuff that makes the sauces so savage can tame the pain of surgery.

Doctors are dripping the chemical that gives chili peppers their fire directly into open wounds during knee replacement and a few other highly painful operations.

Don't try this at home: These experiments use an ultra-purified version of capsaicin to avoid infection -- and the volunteers are under anesthesia so they don't scream at the initial burn.

How could something searing possibly soothe? Bite a hot pepper, and after the burn your tongue goes numb. The hope is that bathing surgically exposed nerves in a high enough dose will numb them for weeks, so that patients suffer less pain and require fewer narcotic painkillers as they heal.

''We wanted to exploit this numbness,'' is how Dr. Eske Aasvang, a pain specialist in Denmark who is testing the substance, puts it.

Chili peppers have been part of folk remedy for centuries, and heat-inducing capsaicin creams are a drugstore staple for aching muscles. But today the spice is hot because of research showing capsaicin targets key pain-sensing cells in a unique way.

California-based Anesiva Inc.'s operating-room experiments aren't the only attempt to harness that burn for more focused pain relief. Harvard University researchers are mixing capsaicin with another anesthetic in hopes of developing epidurals that wouldn't confine women to bed during childbirth, or dental injections that don't numb the whole mouth.

And at the National Institutes of Health, scientists hope early next year to begin testing in advanced cancer patients a capsaicin cousin that is 1,000 times more potent, to see if it can zap their intractable pain.

Nerve cells that sense a type of long-term throbbing pain bear a receptor, or gate, called TRPV1. Capsaicin binds to that receptor and opens it to enter only those pain fibers -- and not other nerves responsible for other kinds of pain or other functions such as movement.

These so-called C neurons also sense heat; thus capsaicin's burn. But when TRPV1 opens, it lets extra calcium inside the cells until the nerves become overloaded and shut down. That's the numbness.

...

I am not too sure about hot sauce as a tooth ache remedy, but here in the southwest, it has long been effective for opening up the sinuses. Nachos with jalepenos on top and you can breathe again.

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