Brain freeze is practically a rite of summer. It happens when you eat ice cream or gulp something cold too quickly. Brain freeze is your body’s way of putting on the brakes, telling you to slow down and take it easy. Our mouths are highly vascularized and that’s why we feel temperatures there which are directed to the brain.
A brain freeze, also known as ice-cream headache, is a form of brief pain or headache commonly associated with consumption of cold beverages or foods such as ice cream and ice pops. It is caused by having something cold touch the roof of the mouth (palate), and is believed to result from a nerve response causing rapid constriction and swelling of blood vessels or a “referring” of pain from the roof of the mouth to the head.
Causes and frequency
An ice cream headache is the direct result of the rapid cooling and rewarming of the capillaries in the sinuses. A similar but painless blood vessel response causes the face to appear “flushed” after being outside on a cold day. In both instances, the cold temperature causes the capillaries in the sinuses to constrict and then experience extreme rebound dilation as they warm up again.
It is possible to suffer from an ice-cream headache in both hot and cold weather, because the effect relies upon the temperature of the food being consumed rather than that of the environment.
To relieve pain, some doctors suggest pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth to warm the area or tilting the head back for about 20 seconds. Another method to relieve ice-cream headaches is to drink a liquid that has a higher temperature than the substance that caused the ice-cream headache. Some people report relief by breathing in through the mouth and out through the nose, thus passing warm air through the nasal passages.
The phenomenon is common enough to have been the subject of research published in the British Medical Journal and Scientific American. A study conducted by Maya Kaczorowski demonstrated a higher incidence of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia in subjects consuming the ice cream sample in less than 30 seconds vs. those who consumed slowly, with no time limit (27.3% and 12.5% respectively). However, Kaczorowski was ultimately not able to draw a clear connection between the speed of consumption and incidence of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.