A splash of aftershave stings the face. A shot of whiskey shocks the throat. A swab of antiseptic on a raw wound causes a person to wince.
Scientists now appear to have found the common thread among these sensations: Alcohol makes certain pain-generating nerves trigger more easily than normal. In some cases, it tricks the nerves into behaving as if they are exposed to extreme heat. Suddenly, alcohol's nickname, firewater, has become especially apropos.