However, continually craving ice and crunching on ice cubes could be bad for a person's teeth and may be a sign of an underlying condition that requires medical attention.
Read on to discover the possible causes of ice cravings and how to treat them.
Underlying conditions that cause ice cravings
The following conditions can make people want to eat or chew on ice:
Ice cravings may be caused by nutritional deficiencies or emotional issues.
Pagophagia is the term for someone who frequently craves ice.
The cravings can be persistent and often last for more than a month.
Pagophagia is a rare form of an eating disorder called pica. Pica often accompanies other mental disorders such as autism and schizophrenia and gives people compulsive cravings for foods that have no real nutritional value.
While children are generally more likely to develop pica cravings, pagophagia can affect both adults and children.
Iron deficiency anemia
Some researchers believe there is a link between iron deficiency anemia and craving ice, but the reason remains unclear.
People with anemia have an insufficient number of healthy red blood cells, which are essential for carrying oxygen around the body. In iron deficiency anemia, a lack of iron is the cause.
Typical symptoms of anemia include:
- fatigue or lack of energy
- pale skin (pallor)
- feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- heart palpitations
- chest pain
- a swollen tongue
- cold hands or feet
A study on people with iron deficiency anemia found that 13 of the 81 participants had symptoms of pagophagia. For some of these individuals, taking iron supplements eliminated their ice cravings.
Additional research suggests that iron supplementation may also provide relief from other pica symptoms.
One theory is that chewing ice makes people with anemia feel more alert. Researchers believe that it triggers an effect that sends more blood up to the brain, which in turn supplies the brain with more oxygen. In addition to improved alertness, this can lead to greater clarity of thinking.
Some emotional issues can also make people want to chew on ice cubes. For example, a person with stress may find chewing on ice soothing.
People who constantly crave ice may have underlying dietary issues that exacerbate the cravings.
It is common to add flavored syrups to shaved ice, so cravings for this may, in fact, be sugar cravings. People should limit their consumption of this type of ice as the sugar content is high.
Mild dehydration can also make a person crave ice cubes. Ice cubes are cooling and can soothe a dry mouth and lips in addition to quenching thirst. They can also help to lower body temperature on a warm day.
The symptoms of mild dehydration are thirst and darker-colored urine. Anyone who is experiencing more severe dehydration symptoms, such as a seizure or feeling dizzy, confused, or disorientated will require urgent treatment.
What are the complications?
Eating ice can lead to complications, which include:
Consuming ice in large quantities can damage tooth enamel and cause cracks or chips in the teeth. This can lead to further problems such as higher sensitivity to temperature and pain.
People who continuously chew ice may need dental work to repair cavities and replace lost fillings.
Anemia may cause complications during pregnancy.
The complications that anemia can cause include:
- an enlarged heart or heart failure
- pregnancy complications such as premature birth or low birth weight
- an increased risk for infections in children
- stunted growth or development in children
People with ice cravings may be consuming much more ice than they realize. The addition of sugar or flavoring to the ice can cause weight gain and other problems relating to excessive sugar consumption.
Ice is unlikely to cause any internal damage. However, if a person with pica also eats other non-food items, this could lead to severe internal problems, such as:
- bowel issues
- obstructions forming in the intestine
- tears developing in the intestine
The treatment for ice cravings will depend on the cause of the problem.
As pica is a mental health condition rather than a physical one, the treatment for pagophagia can vary. A doctor may recommend therapy in combination with antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications.
Those with iron deficiency anemia should find that taking iron supplements relieves their symptoms.
Some people may also need treatment for complications arising from eating ice. For example, they may need to seek advice and treatment from a dentist if they have dental damage.
While sucking on or chewing ice in moderation is unlikely to cause harm, a compulsion to consume ice frequently may signify an underlying condition that needs attention. Without treatment, these conditions may cause complications.
Anyone with persistent ice cravings lasting more than a month should make an appointment with their doctor to see if there is an underlying cause. However, if the person is pregnant, they should seek medical attention as soon as they notice symptoms. Not getting the right nutrients during pregnancy can lead to severe complications.