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Why we get brain freeze, a stitch and hiccups; Ever wondered what's behind mysterious quirks of your body? MICHELE O'CONNOR investigates the causes.


POPPING EARS WE'VE all experienced that feeling when a plane ascends and descends. Your ears become blocked then clear with a popping sensation.

"The eardrum is sensitive to the atmospheric pressure changes that occur when you go in a lift, fly or dive," says family GP and author Dr Carol Cooper. "The 'pop' is the Eustachian tube connecting your middle ear to the back of your throat opening, letting air through."

FIX IT: Suck sweets or chew gum to help you swallow. This enables air to flow up the Eustachian tube. Or, take a breath then try to breathe out gently with your mouth closed and pinch your nose (the Valsalva manoeuvre) to gently push air back into the Eustachian tube.

GOOSE BUMPS ALSO known as piloerection, goose bumps pop up when you're cold or afraid. A tiny muscle at the base of each body hair contracts and, together, they appear as naked bumps on the flesh.

FIX IT: Dress warmly, place yourself in a calm environment and don't watch horror films.

hiccups THEY usually occur when we drink too fast or try to eat and breathe at the same time. This causes the diaphragm and chest muscles to contract, triggering an uncontrollable inhalation.

This can't reach the lungs, as a normal breath would, because the muscle spasm has closed the windpipe. FIX IT: Try holding your breath. This temporarily increases carbon dioxide levels which help regulate breathing. Occasionally, chronic hiccups can be a sign of disease, neck tumours or laryngitis, for instance, so see your GP if you find yourself continuously hiccupping.

PINS AND NEEDLES THAT uncomfortable tingling sensation - technically known as paraesthesia - is caused by a lack of blood supply to, and pressure on, the nerves.

As a result, the nerves become starved of blood and send warning signals to the brain.

The sensation also occurs when you bang your "funny bone" nerve in the elbow. The nerve is temporarily crushed and, rather than being amusing, the sensation can be excruciating.

FIX IT: It's usually temporary and goes away when pressure on the limb is removed. Try rubbing the affected area and wiggling the fingers or toes to get the blood circulating and the feeling back again.

SLEEP 'STARTS' THAT feeling of falling that jerks you awake just as you're drifting off is also known as hypnagogic jerks. They are part of the process of moving from awake to asleep.

Sleep expert Dr Jason Ellis said: "As everything calms down in the body, skeletal muscles can sometimes contract quickly and this results in the 'jump'. It can happen to multiple limbs but should not last more than a few seconds. Stress, excessive caffeine and strenuous exercise before bed can increase the chances of these jerks." FIX IT: Switch to decaf drinks and exercise earlier in the day. "A banana before bedtime has also been shown to help with the transition between asleep and awake and could prevent this from happening," said Dr Ellis. STITCH A SHARP pain in your side can come during exercise or after a big meal.

Personal trainer Nick Dunn said: "Getting a stitch is caused by internal organs moving downwards with the impact of your foot hitting the ground at the same time as the diaphragm moves upwards to help you breath out. This up-down clash can cause the diaphragm to cramp."

FIX IT: Stop running, breathe normally and press or rub the area until the pain goes away. Bending over can also help.

TWITCHY EYE OCCURS when eyelid muscles contract involuntarily. Triggers include lack of sleep, too much caffeine, physical or emotional stress and eye strain associated with prolonged periods spent staring at a computer screen. FIX IT: Getting sufficient sleep, avoiding stress and taking breaks when using a computer can help.

ONIONS MAKE YOU CRY WHEN you cut into an onion, you rupture its cells, releasing enzymes that produce a gas called propanethial sulphoxide.

Once that gas reaches your eyes, it reacts with tears to produce a mild sulphuric acid. The brain then signals the eyes' tear glands to produce more liquid to flush the stuff out. The more you chop, the more tears you shed. FIX IT: Chill an onion in the freezer before cutting it as enzymes slowly when cold. There are more enzymes at the bottom of an onion so cut it last.

BRAIN FREEZE ALSO known as icecream headache, it is a stabbing, aching pain while eating something cold.

It's caused by a sudden dilation of blood vessels in the head triggered by confused mouth nerves sending signals to "warm up" the brain.

FIX IT: "It usually only lasts a few seconds so doesn't need treating," says women's health specialist Professor Anne MacGregor. "Just eat ice cream and consume ice-cold drinks very slowly."
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Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Date:Jul 21, 2015
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