Fitness and Weight Loss Why you want to scream and barf during a cold workout

The screaming barfies sensation is somewhat legendary among climbers.

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It’s an actual condition called the ‘screaming barfies’

If you’ve ever gone ice climbing or winter mountaineering, you’ve probably heard of the “screaming barfies,” a strange health condition also known as the “hot aches.”

This highly painful sensation occurs when your hands (and sometimes feet) warm up after a period of extreme cold.

"At first you want to scream, then barf, then the cycle repeats,” says Will Gadd, an ice climber and guide from Canada who was the first person in the world to climb Niagara Falls.

The screaming barfies sensation is somewhat legendary among climbers.

“However, exactly what it is, what causes it and if it can be prevented are all unanswered questions,” says Andrew Melvin, Ph.D. MBChB, a junior doctor at the University of Dundee in Scotland, who recently coauthored the first study on the mysterious sensation.

Their survey revealed that 96 percent of winter climbers had experienced symptoms of the hot aches.

Most were in pain for one to five minutes, and rated the pain between three and four on a five-point scale of ouch.

Throbbing, tingling, aching, and nausea were also common symptoms - although only four percent of survey participants actually vomited because of the screaming barfies.

So what’s the deal?

The truth is, researchers aren’t so sure yet.

Experts assume that hot aches happen because when your hand or foot gets too cold, you can feel numbness. Then, blood rushes to these extremities and causes blood vessels to widen.

That may be what causes the tingly, painful, pins and needles feeling.

But this theory and its potential consequences will need to be explored in further studies.

In Gadd’s experience, this theory seems highly plausible.

“Body temperature and blood flow are everything,” Gadd says. “If your hands or feet are constricted, for example by tight boots or hanging onto an ice tool, then the blood won’t flow no matter how warm your body is.”

Gadd experiences the painful, tingling hot aches about once or twice a year, and casual hikers or climbers probably don’t need to worry about them.

Still, his advice for avoiding the screaming barfies could help anyone stay warm on cold winter days. Layer on clothing and wear gloves that fit.

“It has to be managed on the front end by keeping your core warm and not getting the insides of your gloves sweaty,” Gadd says. If you wear oversized gloves that trap perspiration, your hands will get cold.

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