Most of us have experienced the annoying burning and tearing you get from chopping onions. But do you know why your eyes burn?

When you cut into an onion, you are actually breaking open microscopic cells filled with enzymes that turn into volatile gasses when they escape. This causes a chemical reaction and creates a lachrymatory agent similar to the chemicals in tear gas. From the Latin lacrima, or “tear.” Lachrymatory factor irritates the eyes and stimulate the tear glands to produce tears.

Here are some suggestions for alleviating some of the discomfort that can occur:

• Cut onions in cold water.
• Wear kitchen goggles to protect your eyes when chopping onions.
• Always cut onions with a sharp knife–less of the enzymes are released!
• Chill or freeze onions to minimize the amount of gas released.
• Use a food processor instead of a knife.
• Cut the root last. The root has a higher concentration of enzymes.
• Wash your hands thoroughly before touching your eyes.

If you do experience discomfort, flush your eyes with cool water or artificial tears. If your symptoms persist, contact your eye doctor right away.

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