Food for Thought

What is Brain Freeze?

By Ashley Beck | June 12, 2013

Rooster Punch Popsicle

Rooster Punch Popsicle

With the summer heat here to stay, brain freeze is something we will come into contact with more often. But what really happens? Surely your brain isn’t actually freezing… or is it? With an ice cream cone in hand (mint chocolate chip, of course), and these questions on the brain, I thought I’d do a bit of research to find out what really goes on when the freeze hits.

As most of you know, brain freeze or “ice-cream headache” occurs when a cold stimulus such as ice cream, popsicle or frozen beverage is consumed too quickly causing a painful headache lasting about 20-30 seconds. But why does this occur?

The trigeminal nerve, shown in yellow.

The trigeminal nerve, shown in yellow.

To get all scientific on you: sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (don’t worry, we can’t pronounce it either) which means the nerve pain of the sphenopalatine gangliori (or simply brain freeze), occurs from the dilation of the capillaries in the sinuses. This is the body’s way of trying to bring blood back to that area of the mouth or throat that was shocked by the cold substance in order to bring it back to its normal temperature.

Why do you feel it in your forehead?

This instant freezing of the mouth and thus dilation of the capillaries also triggers pain receptors in the trigeminal nerve that alert the brain of facial discomfort, connecting it to the forehead. That’s why, after about 10 seconds, what is called deferred pain, in the forehead and temples occurs making you feel as though you’ve “frozen your brain”.

So how do you get rid of it or avoid it from happening at all?

Some doctors suggest that by applying your tongue to the roof of your mouth and thus rewarming the area, the capillaries will release quicker giving you more instant relief. Another option is to slow down and savor that frosty treat, making it less likely for the whole song and dance to occur at all.

wild blueberry frozen yogurt

Wild blueberry frozen yogurt

Here are some frosty treats to enjoy* this summer:

For more stories from Ashley Beck, click here.

*Please enjoy responsibly. Your sinus capillaries will thank you. 

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