Why does hot water feel cold when we are cold?


You know that feeling when your hands are freezing cold so you run them under hot water or get in the shower and it feels like the water is really cold?

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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.