Pagophagia- Is it Harmful?

Pagophagia- Is it Harmful?

Do you remember yourself stealing ice cubes from the refrigerator when your mom was not around? Those little cubes of cold ice seemed like mini treats to you. You would often sneak into the kitchen and get caught sometimes.

A lot of people who want to cool down their bodies or feel refreshed often tend to eat ice or add loads of it into their drinks. Some prefer directly sucking on the ice cubes to get rid of the symptoms of a dry mouth.

However, consuming too much of ice and craving it every now and then can be really damaging to your teeth. It is sometimes a sign of an underlying disease which requires immediate attention and suitable medical treatment.

Are you craving too much ice? Do you wish to know what could be the reasons for it? Keep reading to know what an increased craving for ice can mean and how to address these problems.

What is Causing Ice Cravings in You?

You may not know it but you may be suffering from certain problems that increase your desire to munch on ice cubes. Some of these problems are mentioned below:

Pagophagia

Pagophagia is a term used for someone who craves ice more often. Sometimes, the craving is persistent and can even last as long as a month.

You may not have heard of pagophagia before. That is because it is a rare type of an eating disorder named pica. Pica often occurs in combination with certain other medical conditions known as schizophrenia or autism.

This can give the patients a strong craving for food that has zero nutritional value such as ice.

Usually children are more commonly affected by pica, however, pagophagia has equal chances of affecting both kids and adults.

Iron Deficiency Anemia

Some scientists are of the belief that there is a possible connection between craving too much ice and iron deficiency anemia. However, they have not been able to find a reason yet.

People suffering from anemia have lower than a normal number of healthy red blood cells in their body. These cells are crucial for carrying oxygen from the lungs to different body parts. In iron deficiency anemia, the lack of red blood cells is due to low amount of iron.

Other symptoms of an iron deficiency anemia may include

  • Too much fatigue
  • Energy deprivation
  • Pallor or paleness of skin
  • Lightheadedness
  • Pain in chest
  • Breathlessness
  • Heart palpitations
  • Swelling of tongue
  • Cold feet and hands

A study including the patients with iron deficiency anemia established that 13 out of the total 81 patients suffered from the symptoms of pagophagia. In some of these patients, these symptoms subsided as they took iron supplements. This also caused a marked decrease in their ice cravings

Science has further suggested that taking iron supplements can provide relief from other types of pica and their symptoms.

pagophagia

A commonly proposed theory in this regard is that chewing ice allows the patients with anemia to be more alert. Researchers think that it stimulates an effect that allows more blood to enter the brain. This, in turn, provides a higher level of oxygen to the brain.

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In addition to increased alertness, eating ice can also increase the clarity of thinking in the patients with iron deficiency anemia.

Emotional Problems

Some types of emotional problems can also make people want to eat more ice cubes. For example, a person with too much stress may find relief in sucking on ice.

One of the causes of pagophagia is an obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD is a type of mental disorder that leads to obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.

Nutritional Problems

People who are constantly craving for ice may be suffering from an underlying dietary problem that increases these cravings.

It is also common to put flavored syrups on shaved ice. This means that ice craving in such persons is actually a craving for more sugar. People should be careful about limiting the consumption of this type of ice as it contains too much sugar in it.

Dehydration

Mild forms of dehydration can also cause a person to crave for ice. Ice cubes have a soothing and cooling effect and can cure dry lips and mouth. Additionally, they can also quench thirst.

Ice cubes are also taken by certain people in order to lower down the temperature of the body, particularly on a warm day.

The symptoms of a mild case of dehydration include thirst and urine of darker color. Anyone suffering from severe signs of dehydration like dizziness, disorientation, seizures, or confusion requires urgent medical attention.

What can be the Complications?

Eating too much ice can lead to certain complications which include:

Dental Problems

Consuming too much ice can harm the enamel of your teeth. Sometimes, it can also cause chipping or cracking of the teeth. As the teeth crack, there is an increase in your tooth sensitivity towards pain and temperature.

People who are continuously chewing on ice may require dental work for repairing the cavities and replacing the lost fillings.

Complications related to Anemia

Consuming too much ice cubes can also cause certain problems related to anemia. These may include:

  • Heart failure
  • Enlargement of the heart
  • Increased risk of infections in children
  • Stunted development or growth in children

Dietary Issues

People who tend to get ice cravings more often may be eating much more ice than they could realize. Addition of a sugar or a flavoring of some type to this ice can cause excessive weight gain. Other problems related to overconsumption of sugar may also develop.

pagophagia

Pica Complications

In most of the cases, consuming ice hardly leads to any internal damage. However, if an individual who is suffering from pica also eats other non-food things, this may lead to the development of internal issues.

Some of these internal problems include:

  • Choking
  • Poisoning
  • Infections
  • Bowel problems
  • Tearing of the intestines
  • Obstruction in the intestines

What are your Treatment Options?

The treatment for pagophagia or craving too much ice is not fixed. It is usually different for each patient and depends upon the causative factor of this problem.

Pica is a type of mental health problem instead of a physical one. Therefore, the treatment of pagophagia, a subtype of pica, can be different. Your doctor may suggest going for a therapy in addition to anti-anxiety medicines or anti-depressants.

If the problem of iron deficiency anemia is coexisting with pagophagia, the doctor will prescribe iron supplements to take care of it.

Some people may also require additional treatment for managing complications due to eating ice. For instance, they may need to get an advice and a suitable treatment from a dentist if their teeth have also been damaged.

The Bottom Line

Sucking or chewing on ice occasionally is not a problem and it definitely does not harm your body. However, facing a compulsion to eat it more frequently can signify an underlying problem that may require attention. Without getting a treatment, these conditions may lead to complications.

Anyone who is having ice cravings continuously from a month must get an appointment with a doctor to check if there is a problem causing these cravings. If this condition is seen in a pregnant female, medical attention becomes even more important.

 

Nancy holds a Pharmacy degree from University of Michigan and Masters of Science MS in Infectious Disease and Global Health (MS-IDGH) from Tufts University. She worked as a lecturer for three years before she turned towards medical writing. Her area of interest are infectious diseases; causes, mechanism, diagnosis, treatments and prevention strategies. Most of her writings ensure an easy understanding of uncommon diseases.

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