One minute you’re enjoying your favorite frozen drink or ice cream, and the next minute you’re experiencing an excruciating headache which seems to originate from the middle of your head. The pain usually lasts up to 30 seconds, though for some people it could last up to five minutes, which would be hell. This is the phenomenon known as “brain freeze,” or ice cream headache. The medical term for this type of headache is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, which is a mouthful, so let’s just stick with brain freeze, okay?
What Causes Brain Freeze?
Researchers suggest it is a combination of your body’s overreaction to cold stimuli, freezing of a cluster of nerves above the palate and a sudden influx of warm blood to the brain. Behind this hard palate lies a cluster of nerves which act as a protective thermostat of sorts for your brain. The main nerve is called the sphenopalatine nerve, and it’s extremely sensitive to abrupt changes in temperature.
When something cold touches the roof of your mouth (your palate), the blood vessels surrounding the brain suddenly shrink as a reaction to the cold stimuli, or more precisely overreact, then the tissue stimulates nerves to cause rapid dilation and swelling of blood vessels. The pain is not necessarily triggered by the dilation of the blood vessels, but by the influx of warm blood which forces the vessels open again.
The dilation of the blood vessels triggers pain receptors, which release pain-causing prostaglandins, increase sensitivity to further pain, and produce inflammation while sending signals through the trigeminal nerve to alert the brain to the problem. Because the trigeminal nerve also senses facial pain, the brain interprets the pain signal as coming from the forehead. This is called ‘referred pain’ since the cause of the pain is in a different location from where you feel it. Brain freeze typically hits about 10 seconds after chilling your palate and lasts about half a minute.
The good news is that it sounds quite scary, but a brain freeze does not actually freeze your brain and it causes no damage to your brain whatsoever. As one fellow wrote in the prestigious British Medical Journal, “ice cream abstinence is not indicated.”
How to Prevent and Treat Brain Freeze
It’s sudden chilling or a cycle of chilling and warming that stimulates the nerve and causes pain, so eating ice cream slowly is less likely to cause brain freeze than wolfing it down. One of the quickest ways to reduce the duration of brain freeze is to place your tongue on the roof of your mouth to warm the palate. Once the palate becomes warm again, the nerve clusters are no longer stimulated and they will call off the brain freeze warning. Drinking sips of warm water will also minimize the effects of brain freeze.
Latest posts by Ion Cortez (see all)
- 2012 Trends in Men’s Hairstyles - June 5, 2012
- FHM’s Sexiest Woman in the World: Tulisa Contostavlos - June 4, 2012
- Diora Baird Will Melt Your Mind - May 25, 2012