It’s summer and during its hot days, we’ve all seen many people chew on ice to cool down. Our question is – is this a good idea?

Ice can keep your mouth cool and moist which helps combat dehydration. On the other hand, old wives’ tales say that chewing on ice will break your teeth and lead to a sore throat. Research shows that chewing ice may be ok – unless you crave ice all the time.

A craving to chew ice consistently could indicate an iron deficiency, or an emotional condition called papophagia. If an individual wants to chew ice constantly, for a period of time that lasts longer than a month, it would be beneficial to consult a physician.

Causes of papophagia
There are several conditions that may cause a craving to chew ice.

Pagophagia: This is the clinical term for someone who wants to chew ice frequently and develops a craving for it. It is actually one form of an eating disorder called “pica.” In many cases, the individual also suffers from mental health issues which can include autism and/or schizophrenia. Papophagia can affect children and adults alike.

Iron deficiency anemia: Though there isn’t conclusive evidence, some scientists believe there is a connection between craving ice and a health condition called “iron deficiency anemia.” This type of anemia is caused by a lack or iron in the body. The reason it may cause a craving to chew ice is unclear. However, at least one study1 showed that iron supplements taken by some people suffering from iron deficiency anemia (with an accompanying craving to chew ice) were enough to stop the ice cravings.

Symptoms of iron deficiency anemia may include:

  • Cold hands or feet
  • Swollen tongue
  • Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
  • Fatigue
  • Chest pain or heart palpitations

Other potential causes for craving ice chewing can include:

  • Emotional conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), stress and anxiety
  • Dehydration: Chewing ice may alleviate mild dehydration. It’s important to address mild dehydration by increasing the intake of liquids to avoid severe dehydration. Signs of severe dehydration include thirst and dark urine. Should these symptoms appear medical attention should be sought immediately.

Treatments for papophagia
The treatments for papophagia involve treating the underlying cause of the problem. For example, treating iron deficiency anemia with iron supplements usually addresses the symptoms of papophagia.

If the condition is caused by mental health issues such as autism or schizophrenia, or emotional issues such as OCD, treating those conditions with therapy and medications, as directed by a physician, may lessen the papophagia, as well.

If an individual cannot stop chewing ice. it’s important to seek proper diagnosis and treatment. Any behavior that is not done in moderation can cause problems and chewing ice is one of them. If you believe that you or a loved one has developed a craving to chew ice at a frequency that is more than normal, contact an ear, nose, throat specialist for treatment.