Weird body quirks explained

Ever wondered why you get hiccups, goosebumps or a persistent eye twitch? The human body can be mysterious, but most of its weird and wonderful quirks have logical and scientific explanations.

Everybody knows the embarrassment of a poorly timed yawn, but it’s one of the most contagious, uncontrollable actions that your body does. Babies do it, animals do it, even thinking about yawning can make you yawn. One theory behind yawning is that when we are bored or tired, we don’t breathe as deeply as we usually do. Slower or shallower breaths result in us taking in less oxygen, often triggering a yawn to bring more oxygen into the blood and move more carbon dioxide out of the blood.

Another theory is that yawning stretches the lungs and lung tissue. Stretching and yawning may be your body’s way of increasing your heart rate to make you feel more awake.

Read: Exploding head syndrome and other strange sleep phenomena

Brain freeze
These painful headaches happen when something cold touches the nerves in the roof of your mouth, triggering blood vessels in the front of your head to swell. This rapid swelling causes the familiar, intense pain of a brain freeze. Apparently, you can lessen the pain by pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth, but that hasn’t been scientifically tested.

Goosebumps, or cutis anserine, can be caused by strong emotions or by exposure to cold. Even a good scare can have your hair standing on end. Your body produces the bumps by contracting the muscles around your hair follicles, pulling the hairs into an upright position.

While goosebumps have no beneficial function in humans, scientists say furry animals have practical reasons for getting them. Hair standing on end creates insulation against the cold and can make the animal look larger to scare off predators.

Limbs falling asleep
That familiar pins-and-needles sensation is caused by constant pressure on nerves, leaving them unable to transmit messages to your brain. Simply moving around and relieving the pressure should be enough to reduce the discomfort.

Chronic tingling indicates a more serious underlying condition that should be evaluated.

Muscle cramps
These severely painful muscle spasms often occur in the thigh, calf or foot and can last from a few seconds to several minutes.

Dehydration, muscle overuse, nerve irritation, and low levels of certain minerals such as potassium and calcium can all be culprits. Try stretching the legs to relieve the muscle, walk around if possible, or massage the area to relieve the pain.

Although most muscle cramps are harmless, some may be related to an underlying medical condition, so see your doctor if they persist.

Read: Coping with cramps

Solar sneezes
Sneezing is your body’s response to an irritant in the nose, so why does exposure to bright light bring one on in some people? The phenomenon has the name Autosomal Dominant Compelling Helioopthalmic Outburst Syndrome and is genetic.

The cause of photic sneezing is not fully understood but one theory is that sneezing involves the optic nerve and a change in light can stimulate it, creating the same sensation as having an irritant in the nose.

Another theory is that exposure to light causes tears in your eyes that briefly empty into the nose, acting as an irritant.

There are two parts to a hiccup, the first is an uncontrollable contraction of the diaphragm (the breathing muscle under the lungs). The second part is a quick closing of your vocal cords, causing the sound.

Hiccups can start and stop for no obvious reason, but they’re typically triggered when something irritates your diaphragm. Eating too quickly or too much, drinking alcohol or carbonated drinks, eating spicy foods, having a bloated stomach or even being nervous can all be triggers.

They usually go away on their own, but you can try remedies such as holding your breath, quickly drinking water, and breathing in a bag to help them on their way.

Persistent eye twitches
Eyelid spasms are unpredictable and bothersome, but typically harmless. They can be caused by stress, fatigue, eye strain, caffeine and dry eyes.

More serious twitching may be caused by neurological disorders, such as Tourette’s syndrome. Eyelid spasms usually go away on their own, but if they are severe, Botox injections may be recommended.

Read: Causes of muscle twitches and spasms

Ear popping
We’ve all yawned on a flight to ‘pop’ our ears, but what’s going on behind the scenes? The Eustachian tube works to keep air pressure equal on both sides of your eardrum. When pressure builds up in your middle ear, your Eustachian tubes will open. The pressure in your ear equalises when the tubes open. This is what makes your ears pop, to relieve pressure and potential pain.

Do you sneeze when you look at the sun? Which other weird body quirks have you always wondered about? Please let us know in the comments section below.

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Disclaimer: This article contains general information about health issues and is not advice. For health advice, consult your medical practitioner.

Written by Ellie Baxter