Medical Mysteries, She Wrote
Have you ever wondered why it hurts when you hit your funny bone? Or why your eyes close when you sneeze? WebMD has the answers to these and other perpetually perplexing medical mysteries.
Reading This Will Make You Yawn
Sometimes, even thinking about yawning will make you yawn. And when the person next to you does it, forget about it -- you'll yawn, too. With all this talk about yawning, in fact, you've probably already yawned.
"A yawn is an instinctive behavior: You don't have to learn to do it, and yawns are even present before birth," says Robert Provine, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County.
Is the myth that yawns are actually contagious true?
"When one person in a group yawns, over half of the people in the group will yawn within five minutes, and the rest will at least be tempted to yawn," says Provine, who has been researching yawning for more than 20 years. "What is surprising is that virtually anything having to do with yawning triggers a contagious reaction."
Provine explains that while yawning is highly contagious, so are other human behaviors, like laughter, and this reaction is actually very normal -- and ancient.
"When you see someone else yawn, you don't think to yourself, 'Well, I'll yawn, too," says Provine. "It just happens -- it's instinctive, and it's a very primal aspect of human behavior that goes back to ancient herd mentality."
Now that you know why yawns are contagious and why your funny bone should actually be called a painful nerve, here are other medical mysteries, unraveled:
Why do you lose your sense of taste when your nose is stuffy? According to the American Academy of Family Physicians web site, the flavor of food involves both taste and smell. If your nose is stuffy, you are left to rely on only half of the flavor equation: just your taste buds, and those buds can only differentiate between four or five different molecules, while the nose can distinguish between about 10,000. In short, your nose knows.
Is brain freeze really your brain gone cold? In an editorial in the British Medical Journal, author Joseph Hulihan describes ice cream headache, commonly known as brain freeze, as a pain that begins a few seconds after eating cold foods or beverages, peaks in 30-60 seconds, and is located in the mid frontal area of the brain. Why does it occur? It's been studied as an example of referred pain, or pain that starts in one part of the body, but is felt in another. In the case of brain freeze, the pain originates in the mouth and is referred through the tongue to the brain. The good news is that brain freeze isn't deadly, and no treatment is usually required. In fact, writes Hulihan, "Ice cream abstinence is not indicated."
Why can't you get the Disney ditty "It's a Small World" out of your head? According to a University of Cincinnati news release, marketing professor James J. Kellaris, PhD, explains that this song is a leading earworm -- a tune that gets stuck in your head and won't let go. Earworms are experienced by more than 97% of the population, according to the release, and drive a person crazy from a few hours to over a week. Why do earworms strike? Overexposure to music can play a role, as can stress, fatigue, or pressure. So relax, and let earworms find someone else to feed on.