Have you ever enjoyed a sip of an ice-cold milkshake or taken a bite of an ice cream cone only to get an instant blast of pain or headache that lasts a few seconds? You’re not alone. We’re all familiar with that dreaded feeling–brain freeze. Although this feeling lasts only a few seconds or minutes, it can be the nuisance. What exactly causes this ice cold-induced headache?
Ingesting cold substances like ice cream too fast causes the size of the blood vessels to change rapidly.
There are blood vessels that are inside the mouth and in the back of the throat, and when they are rapidly exposed to something very cold, they constrict or become smaller. And then they become larger. And when those blood vessels rapidly change size like that, it activates the pain receptors.
While being called brain freeze, it’s not your brain isn’t actually freezing (nope nope!). The scientific name for brain freeze is, wait for it, take a deep breath, try not to bite your tongue, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (I warned ya!) which means “pain of the nerve located on the roof of your mouth”.
- Quick onset of head pain, peaking within 30 to 60 seconds of cold exposure.
- Intense, stabbing pain in the forehead and temples.
- Pain that resolves within a few seconds to a few minutes after it begins.
Typically, the pain of brain freeze is most intense in the forehead and then may spread to the temples and the back of the head. These blasts of pain can be intense but they last only a few seconds and aren’t dangerous.
The only sure way to avoid it completely is to abstain from ice-cold food, but who is gonna eat all those ice creams and drink all those milkshakes?! A more realistic remedy is to be nice and slow when ingesting cold food. This one even requires a huge amount of self-control.