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Why Chopping Onions Makes You Cry
Eye doctor explains how they release a noxious gas when cut

By Robert Preidt

WEDNESDAY, July 5, 2017 (HealthDay News) -- Ever wonder why your eyes fill with tears when you chop an onion?

One eye doctor pinpoints the culprit.

Onions use sulfur in the soil to create amino acid sulfoxides, which are sulfur compounds that readily turn into a gas. When an onion is cut open, it releases the sulfoxides and enzymes, which react and create a gas called syn-propanethial-S-oxide.

Because onions grow underground, this gas helps deter critters that want to feed on them.

But the gas is also what causes your eyes to water when chopping onions, said Dr. Robert Rosa Jr., an ophthalmologist at the Texas A&M College of Medicine.

"It really is a complicated chemical process that creates the gas," said Rosa. "They all act as precursors that create the lachrymatory processor -- or what makes you tear up."

White, yellow and red onions all have higher concentrations of the onion enzyme necessary to create this gas, while sweet onions, green onions and scallions have lower concentrations. Also, some people are more sensitive to this gas than others, he said.

"Your eyes have a set of nerves that detect anything that's potentially harmful to your eyes. Your eyes react to the gas that is formed, and your eyes try to flush it out with tears," Rosa explained in a school news release.

However, onions pose no serious threat to your visual health.

"Chopping onions can cause some burning and irritation and tears. Other than that, it's pretty safe on your eyes. It's a temporary sensation with no known long-term effects, nor will it worsen any other conditions, like pink eye," Rosa said.

Goggles can prevent the gas from reaching your eyes while cutting onions, but they aren't really necessary, he added.

"Some people may cut the onions in a bowl of water," Rosa said. "I'd personally recommend using eye drops, like comfort drops, to help lubricate or rinse the eyes and dilute the gas exposure to the eyes."

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on various vision problems.

SOURCE: Texas A&M College of Medicine, news release, June 2017

Copyright © 2017 HealthDay. All rights reserved. URL:http://consumer.healthday.com/Article.asp?AID=724021

Resources from HONselect: HONselect is the HON's medical search engine. It retrieves scientific articles, images, conferences and web sites on the selected subject.
Eye
Tears
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Sulfoxides
Attention
The list of medical terms above are retrieved automatically from the article.

Disclaimer: The text presented on this page is not a substitute for professional medical advice. It is for your information only and may not represent your true individual medical situation. Do not hesitate to consult your healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns. Do not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease without consulting a qualified healthcare professional.
Be advised that HealthDay articles are derived from various sources and may not reflect your own country regulations. The Health On the Net Foundation does not endorse opinions, products, or services that may appear in HealthDay articles.


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