Give Now

A Moment of Science

Ow! Why Hot Feels Cold

Have you ever dipped your toe into a hot bath and felt a flash of icy cold just before you realize that its really burning?

Boiling water in pot

Photo: Sterlic (flickr)

Sticking your finger in boiling hot water like this might produce a sensation called paradoxical cold which produces an icy cold feeling right before the burning sensation comes

Kids don’t try this at home!

Have you ever dipped your toe into a very hot bath and felt a flash of icy cold just before you realize that its really burning? After you pull your toe out, you might wonder what causes very hot water to feel cold.

This odd sensation is called paradoxical cold and is caused by the temperature receptors in the skin. There are separate, specific receptors that respond to decreases or increases in skin temperature. If skin temperature drops, the cold receptors fire and if it increases, the warmth receptors fire.

However, if a strong stimulus, like very hot water, can stimulate not only the warmth receptors but also stimulate the pain receptors. These warn us that we are doing ourselves damage, and should take action to prevent it. The strong stimulus can also cause the abnormal stimulation of the cold receptors.

Over-stimulation can cause the confusing sensation of cold, hot and pain, but as long as we’re clear about pulling the toe out to safety, paradoxical cold is just another strange trick of the senses.

  • loloooo8888

    pésima redacción, una vergüenza.

  • Fobio Alex Alex

    cool, answers a good question

  • Karen Cantrell

    I have not found not one website to my problem. I found a lot of different answers that is close but not the problem. The following quote from states at the end is a bunch of bull crap from hell…..”Conceptually, the notion of paradoxical cold is used in opposition to *paradoxical heat. Both phenomena are usually classified as illusions, more specifically, as * physiological illusions or *perceiver-distortion illusions. IT IS AN ILLUSION AT ALL.” I take hot showers, thinking OH YEAH nice and hot water to sooth my aches and pains. I step in, and oh yessssss. But my foot at the toes feels like it is in a bowl of Dry ice or in Liquid nitrogen. And it isn’t short lived either. I have to keep my foot out of the flow of water the whole time I take my shower. Everytime I put my foot under the water flow it starts all over. And the pain that comes with it is extreme. Whenever it decides to act up, I tried to keep my foot under the running water. Oh my god, the pain of during this was soooooo extremely unbearable. It lasted the whole time in the shower, not for a few seconds or a few minutes the whole freaking time. Sometimes, I have to turn the hot water to cold because I’m about to pass out. These two issues started on me back in April of 2014, and I’m 40. I injured my back at my last Job, haven’t been able to work since. Not one Doctor will look at my injured area, not one will listen to me of what I think when it comes to the injury being the reason why from knees down to feet go to sleep, trouble walking, pain and burning all the time at injury area, pain in hips, pain in thighs, and severe sharp pains here a there mainly in toes, pins and needles in feet since 9/1/2011 injury on 8/11/2011. I followed instructions of stretching exercises from day of injury but it just made it worse. I have had so many different test and those test ruled possible diagnosis out by the Doctors and still NO diagnosis. I want fixed, That’s all I ever freaking wanted. And I felt like the Doctors didn’t care if I got Fixed. I have never liked Doctors, never trusted them. There are only two Doctors in my life that I did. One I want to find for he would listen and fix me. I haven’t seen him since early 1990′s though and cannot find him. The other well is good, but sends me to someone else for it is beyond his expertise. I severe everyday. But these two new issues is just plain wrong. And everyone is different. The bodies all the same yes, but the individual is totally different and react to each health problems differently. And all the doctors don’t treat each person-individually…just the body all the same. This is why the medical industry has a bad name. We are just experiments for them all, and raises the cost. I want freaking fixed, I don’t care what they want…their job is to fix people not keep them sick or in pain. They are all incompetent, when all people want is to be healthy and well and not in pain. So, services are never rendered if the doctors don’t fix you or make you 100% again. So far, nothing.

Stay Connected

What is RSS? RSS makes it possible to subscribe to a website's updates instead of visiting it by delivering new posts to your RSS reader automatically. Choose to receive some or all of the updates from A Moment of Science:

Support for Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science

Search A Moment of Science