What is 'cat tongue': why not everyone can drink hot coffee and tea

Yulia PoteriankoLife
Drinking hot coffee can be problematic for people with a sensitive tongue

What do you do with a freshly poured hot drink? Do you sip it immediately, or do you wait for it to cool down a bit? If you tend to choose the latter option because very hot coffee or tea causes an unpleasant and even painful burn to your mouth, you may be experiencing what is commonly known as "cat's tongue."

This term originates from the Japanese language, where the sensation of something being too hot in the mouth is referred to as "nekojita," translating to "cat's tongue." Science Norway has studied this phenomenon, exploring whether nekojita poses any danger.

The temperature difference of 13 degrees

German scientists conducted a study to determine the temperature at which individuals experience the pain threshold when consuming hot beverages. They served coffee to 87 participants, gradually increasing the temperature with each new portion. The experiment stopped when participants felt the drink burned their tongues.

Results showed varying sensitivity among participants. The initial coffee temperature for all subjects was 58°C. Some found it too hot even at this level, while others only felt discomfort when given coffee at 71°C. The difference between the lowest and highest thresholds was 13°C.

"There is a huge difference in how much pain people feel and can tolerate," explained Christopher Nielsen, a researcher at the Norwegian Institute of Health Research specializing in pain sensitivity. He emphasized that individuals differ in their pain tolerance levels and responses to different types of pain.

Differences in pain tolerance

Generally, people can tolerate minimal pain from heat and significantly more from pressure or cold. However, the nature of these pain thresholds is not yet fully understood. For instance, it remains uncertain whether pain thresholds differ across various body regions and if individuals sensitive to heat in the mouth exhibit similar sensitivity elsewhere.

Thin mucous membrane

The oral mucous membrane is less protected from heat compared to the skin, acting similarly to skin without epidermis, according to Lars Arendt-Nielsen, a pain researcher at the University of Aalborg in Denmark. While hot liquids can harm tissues in the mouth, their quick distribution and swallowing prevent extensive burns. Yet, very hot drinks pose a risk of minor throat burns and may contribute to an increased risk of esophageal cancer, as suggested by a German study.

How common is "cat's tongue"

The Japanese term "nekojita" is prevalent in Japan, suggesting that a significant portion of the population experiences this sensitivity. A survey conducted by a Japanese weather forecasting website found that 47% of over 10,000 respondents identified as sensitive to hot drinks and food, with this phenomenon being more common among those aged 20 and older. The term itself carries a neutral connotation in Japanese, describing an everyday fact without positive or negative implications.

Earlier, OBOZREVATEL told you why you shouldn't drink tea and coffee on an airplane.

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