Want to know why your ears pop, you get brain freeze and cry chopping onions? Read on 22:22, 20 July 2015 By Michele O'Connor Ever wondered why you get goose bumps? Or sleep starts? Well, we have the answers here - along with how you can stop them Brain freeze: We can tell you why it happens Although body quirks are usually harmless, why do we experience weird tics, twinges and sensations? And what can we do about them? Read on. Body quirk: Stitch Getty A stitch: Often experienced by people exercising What causes it? There are several theories for that sharp pain in your side which usually comes on during exercise or after a big meal. One is that, during exercise, blood moves away from the diaphragm to the limbs causing it to cramp, while another is that having a full stomach causes the gut to tug on ligaments connecting it to the diaphragm causing the pain. Nick Dunn, personal trainer and triathlon coach (nickdunnfitness.com) says: “Getting a stitch is caused by the 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 – causing the stitch.” Fix it Stop running, breathe normally and press or rub the area until the pain goes away. Bending over as much as possible can also help as it stretches out your diaphragm, advises Nick. Body quirk: Popping ears Nick Morrish/BA Popping ears: Often happens when people are flying What causes it? We’ve all experienced that feeling when a plane ascends and descends. Your ears become blocked then suddenly clear with a popping sensation. The reason? “The eardrum is sensitive to the atmospheric pressure changes that occur when you go in a lift, fly or dive,” explains 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 If you are finding the feeling of pressure uncomfortable, suck sweets or chew gum to help you swallow – this enables air to flow up the eustachian tube. alternatively, take a breath in and 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, which can often help to cure the problem. Body quirk: Brain freeze Brain freeze: Just eat it slower, greedy guts What causes it? ‘Brain freeze’ – or ice-cream headache – 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. In fact, eating ice cream, rather than stress, hangovers or migraine, is the most common cause of headaches, according to a study in the British Medical Journal. “The cold stimulus triggers activity in the trigeminal nerve which is responsible for sensation in the face,” says Professor Anne MacGregor, a specialist in headaches and women’s health (annemacgregor.com). Fix it “It usually only lasts a few seconds so doesn’t really need treating,” she adds. “Just eat ice cream and consume ice-cold drinks very slowly!” Body quirk: Twitchy eye Twitchy eye: Get more sleep and put the caffeine down What causes it? “A twitching eye (blepharospasm) occurs when your eyelid muscles contract involuntarily and is generally temporary and harmless,” explains Kelly Plahay, Chair of the Eyecare Trust. “Possible 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. "In rare cases, a twitching eye can be a sign of something more serious such as an injured cornea or the onset of neurological problems.” Fix it Your eye will generally stop twitching itself. However, getting sufficient sleep, avoiding stress and taking breaks when using a computer can help, says Kelly. Speak to an optometrist if you get chronic twitching as drug therapy or Botox may be needed. Body quirk: Onions make you cry No tears: You COULD try chopping an onion wearing goggles What causes it? 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. And that hurts. The brain then signals the eyes’ tear glands to produce more liquid to flush the stuff out. The more you chop, the more irritating gas you produce and the more tears you shed. “The onion’s chemical reaction is a defence mechanism that evolved to repel pests,” explains University of Wisconsin-Madison horticultural professor Irwin Goldman. Fix it Keep the stinging and crying to a minimum by chilling an onion in the freezer before cutting it – cold temperatures release the enzymes slowly. The highest concentration of enzymes is at the bottom of the onion so cut it last to postpone the weeping (and the irritation) for as long as possible. Or wear goggles! Body quirk: Sleep starts Sleep starts: Cut out the caffeine before bed What causes it? We’ve all experienced that sudden feeling of falling that jerks you awake just as you’re drifting off. “Sleep starts – also known as hypnagogic jerks – are just part of the process of moving from awake to asleep, explains Dr Jason Ellis, Director of Northumbria Centre for Sleep Research. “As everything calms down in the body (e.g. relaxing respiration, changes in brainwaves), the skeletal muscles can sometimes contract quickly and this results in the ‘jump’. It can happen to multiple limbs or just one and 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 smooth transition between asleep and awake and could prevent this from happening,” adds Dr Ellis. Body quirk: Hiccups Hiccups: Careful how you inhale What causes it? These are a failed attempt to inhale, says Professor Len Fisher, author of The Science of Everyday Life (Orion, £6.99). And 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. It’s this closure that’s responsible for producing the well-known sound of a hiccup. Fix it Like sneezing, hiccupping is a reflex so cannot easily be controlled – though everyone knows a ‘cure’. Try holding your breath. This temporarily increases carbon dioxide levels which helps 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. Body quirk: Goose bumps Goose bumps: There's a way to make them better What causes it? Goose bumps, also known as piloerection, 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. Pre evolution, when humans still had a natural fur coat, this made sense. Back then, fluffing up your fur would warm the body by trapping an insulating layer of air between the hairs. And standing your hair on end was intimidating to predators or enemies – think cats squaring up to a dog. Fix it It’s not a medical issue, but dress warmly, place yourself in a calm environment and don’t watch horror films. Body quirk: Pins and needles What causes it? Most of us have experienced this after sitting in the same position for too long or lying on an arm while sleeping. 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 the ulna or ‘funny bone’ nerve – an ancient pun on the word humerus (the upper arm bone) – in the elbow. The nerve is temporarily crushed and, rather than being amusing, the residual sensation of pins and needles 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.