Though it is possible that drinking ice-cold water in very hot weather could send the body into a state of shock, such events are extremely rare, medical experts say, and are more likely the outcome of other underlying medical conditions like dehydration.
As much of the U.S. braced for unprecedented high temperatures in July 2021, warnings and suggestions to avoid heat-related injuries circulated on social media. One such post claimed that drinking ice-cold water under high-heat conditions can potentially cause the body to go into shock. Snopes readers sent our team the following Facebook post that was reportedly shared to the platform in early July:
So we’ve all heard not to drink really cold water in the heat, but a lot of us haven’t heard the why or experienced it first hand. Cold water is good, so how could it be bad? Well, yesterday I found out. We were out working in 100° weather (not a good idea in itself) when my dad noticed my face was getting pretty red and suggested that I take a break. I immediately grabbed a cold bottle of water and drank it.
After he did a little more work he suggested that I get in the truck and blast the a.c.. in the truck I drank some more cold water and very shortly started feeling strange. I started seeing spots, my stomach got extremely nauseous and my hands and feet started tingling. I felt like I was going to throw up so I opened the truck door and the next thing I know I’m face first in the ground and my dad’s rolling me over and wiping off my face. Heh said my eyes had rolled back a bit and I didn’t come to for a few minutes. Emt arrived and asked what was going on. Immediately the guy knew what happened.
Apparently, if you’re too hot and chug a bottle of cold water, it Can send your body into shock. It thinks that the stomach is going hypothermic and so it takes the warm blood from your hand, feet and head and sends it to the stomach. You will lose consciousness. He said cold water is good, but only in sips. Room temperature water is better if you need fast rehydration. Just figured I would share in case anyone could benefit from my mishap. Summer’s just around the corner. Stay cool. Feel free to share if you think it could help someone. I wish I had learned this a long time ago.
A look through Facebook revealed that an earlier form of the post had been shared by the Facebook group “We Are Northhamptonshire” on July 6, 2018, along with the photo of a male with a bloodied nose.
And various iterations of similar warnings have circulated on social media for years:
Snopes spoke with medical professionals who said that while it is possible that chugging ice-cold water could send the body into a state of shock, such events are extremely rare, and may often coincide with other health-related issues like dehydration, heat exhaustion, low blood sugar, or unknown underlying medical conditions.
“There are too many factors that could have influenced why this man became ill and without doing a full medical workup, it’s impossible to definitively say that the adverse outcome he experienced was caused solely by drinking ice-cold water,” Tenneson Lewis, an emergency room nurse based in Montana, told Snopes in an interview.
Though such an incident is unlikely, it is not impossible. Shock is a critical condition brought on by a sudden drop in blood flow, which means that the cells and organs do not get enough of the oxygen and nutrients that would otherwise be transported by the circulatory system. The body can go into shock due to a multitude of conditions, including trauma, blood loss, an allergic reaction, or heatstroke, according to the Mayo Clinic.
And if someone is extremely dehydrated to begin with, it is possible that a body could react to cool water hitting the stomach by constricting the blood vessels surrounding the stomach to send blood towards the vital organs. This would mean that the brain is not receiving enough blood, which could result in a temporary loss of consciousness.
“If someone is outside and suffering from heat exhaustion, simply put, they’re dehydrated,” said Lewis. “If there are no other underlying medical issues then this person most likely fainted due to dehydration.”
But the possibility that ice-cold water could contribute to causing shock or fainting doesn’t necessarily mean that it should be avoided when it is hot outside. Heatstroke is a serious heat-related illness that occurs when the body is no longer able to control its temperature. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) noted that the body’s temperature rises rapidly, a person loses their ability to sweat, and thus the body is no longer able to cool itself down. Within 15 minutes, extreme cases of heatstroke can cause the body temperature to rise to 106 degrees Fahrenheit or higher that could cause damage to the brain and other vital organs, and sometimes death.
Several factors can affect the body’s ability to cool itself, including high humidity that prevents sweat from evaporating as quickly. Other conditions include old age, obesity, heart disease, poor circulation, sunburn, and dehydration. The best way to prevent dehydration is to drink plenty of water.
If a person appears to be experiencing symptoms of heatstroke — such as a throbbing headache and is no longer sweating — the CDC recommends getting them to a shady area and to begin cooling them rapidly. One of the best ways to cool the body is immersion in ice-cold water.