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I volunteer with a group that cooks community meals and everyone knows that I'm the worst person to ask to chop all the onions because they irritate my eyes like absolutely nothing else- much worse than anyone else. Although if I have to do it the fact that it affects me so badly is a source of much amusement, of course. I know it happens to all of us, but within about a second of cutting into one my face will be streaming with tears, and my throat and nose start to burn pretty badly. In fact almost the same thing happens even if someone else is cutting the onions on the other end of the table, or if there's a bowl of chopped onion around me. I have to wash the cutting board and knife after or I'll still be "crying" while preparing the rest of the vegetables. One girl mentioned that the same thing used to happen to her but after a while she became desensitized, because she cooked with onion so often. No idea if that's true. At home I've tried chilling onions before cutting them, using sharper knives, etc, but nothing seems to help it. Do different people just have varying degrees of sensitivity to this effect of onions? Silly question maybe but I am curious.

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  1. I cut a lot of onions over many years and they still bother my eyes. Even with a very sharp knife.

    1. The best solution for chopping onions is contact lenses. Not recommending you go out and buy them of course, but I used to have a severe reaction and after I started wearing them became the family volunteer because everyone else used to cry too.

      Have heard having a candle or two burning right next to the chopping board helps, but have never tried it.

      4 Replies
      1. re: pasuga

        After I stopped wearing contacts (waaaahhhh!) I found that it helps to place the cutting board over the UNLIT front burner of the stove and turn on the rear burner - right behind it. The heat seems to draw the fumes away and no more crying.

        1. re: Nyleve

          I *used* to wear contacts...don't need them anymore but am not really bothered by cutting up onions but I don't cut up as many as Slowdive, that's for sure...WHAT ABOUT SUNGLASSES??? could they work? Seems like they would!!!

          1. re: Val

            Glasses no, but swim goggles, or any other snug googles, do work. They even sell onion goggles. I have extreme tearing if the onions aren't cold, so I store them in the refrigerator and have no irritation, ever, that way.

            1. re: greygarious

              I've used the swim goggles and scuba mask thing and it works.
              Looks stupid, but it works.

      2. I always sharpen my knife before doing any extensive onion chopping and also wear a pair of close fitting clear safety glasses available at any Sears store in the Craftsman hardware dept or I have fitted nice Snap-On tools clear safety glasses with side protectors. There are some saftey glases that even actually fit over normal vision glasses too.

        Works like a charm with no crying or irritation at all.


        1. Desensitization is the only thing I can think of. I would hope the onions are fresh and your knife is sharp, because when I cut a less than perfect onion it is more irritable than a really good, fresh one.

          I guess it is also what you are used to i.e. desensitizing. I always use jalapenos, serranos, even habeneros but last week I made a recipe with 5 anaheims, 5 poblanos, 6 cloves garlic, one RED onion (which should be milder than yellow or brown) and my eyes were burning and my fingers were burning 24 hours later. It was the Chicken Chile Verde recipe I found here, and overall the chili wasn't very hot, but I couldn't believe how miserable I was!!! Nothing in the entire recipe was "hot", but I was hurting!

          Will I make the recipe again????? I just bought all the ingredients tonight since boneless/skinless chicken thighs were on sale for $1.49/lb.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Barbara76137

            Store Onions in the fridge=no more problems, been doing it for decades.

          2. I've heard pretty good stuff about safety goggles, as mentioned above. If I need to do a bunch and they don't need to look perfect I've taken to the food processor, keeping the prep bowl lid on until the moment I need the onions. No mo' tears.

            1. I have the same problem. I worked in a cafe, and chopped many an onion, and never found that my sensitivity lessened. But I have a pesky auto-immune thing that has drastically impaired my eyes ability to adjust to environment. Bright lights and irritating fumes are the most troublesome. Whether I'm walking down the street at noon or chopping a fresh onion, I look as if I've just lost my best friend. And I *like* mascara, and onions, so it behooved me to find a way to make this work.

              I've found, through trial and error, and CH tips, that two things work for me. The first (and best) is that I noticed that merely refrigerating onions does not help if the onions are not first peeled and then sliced in half. I tried tucking them into the fridge whole and unpeeled, and noticed only a *little* difference (I could get through a half an onion before I had to walk away to wipe my eyes, but I never use less than two on any day of the week). It was only after a few times of chopping an onion, and tucking half of the peeled thing away for later use, that I noticed I could chop the remainder without much discomfort. I realized that doing a bit of prep a day ahead in such a manner would save me quite a bit of aggravation. Peel, halve, refrigerate.

              The second is the candle trick, but I've found the flame has to be a decent one. No tea lights. I keep a nice size candle in the kitchen for this (though reading here of the use of the stove is interesting, and I would try that, save my chopping space is not near my stove). I use the candle when I peel and halve the onions, which I try to do a day ahead so I can tuck them into the fridge.

              I've worried that the first method, the refrigeration, would dry out the onion, and thus used that as an excuse to introduce a bit of butter into the cooking oil . . . so that is a win-win. Good luck.

              1. I find it also has to do with the kind of onion I am chopping. Sweeter onions like 1015s or Vidalias or Walla Wallas, no problem. Sharper onions, especially hard white ones, yikes.

                1. You're much more sensitive than most people.

                  1. Chopping onions never brothered me when I was in college, and I didn't understand why people say chopping onions causes tearing. Then, when I went to graduate school, the onions started to bother me. I found out there are two major reaons. First, I refrigated my onions when I was in college. Second, my countertop was much lower when I was in college, thus the distance between my eyes and the onions is further.

                    1. The "culinary goggles" work perfectly. But when I need a lot, I buy a big bag of chopped onions from Smart and Final--inexpensive and a real time saver.

                      1. I'm pretty sensitive to cutting up onions and I don't tolerate contacts anymore. (Yes, cutting onions bothered me less with contacts in.) I find what helps me is to have a fan behind me, so the fumes are blown away from me. It's the only way I cut onions these days.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: silkenpaw

                          The fan works pretty well for me too. Just a small, cheap, lightweight one that you can set up on the counter to blow the onion aroma away from you. Otherwise I feel like I've been maced!