What is Brain Freeze & Why Do We Get It?

Few things taste better on a hot, steamy summer day than an ice cold frozen treat like tall, sweet water ice or a great big ice cream cone. But in the excitement of that delicious treat-in-hand, too much of a good thing too fast can cause sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, better known as a “brain freeze.” It is a short-term headache typically linked to the rapid consumption of ice cream, water ice, ice pops, or very cold drinks.

Brain Freeze Causes
What happens when we experience that brief, yet quite uncomfortable brain freeze is the quick cooling of capillaries in the sinus and oropharyngeal area resulting in vasoconstriction or narrowing of the blood vessels. The rapid changes near the sensitive nerves in the palate create that sensation of a brain freeze.

According to research done at Harvard Medical School led by Dr. Jorge Serrado there are several possible reasons for the sudden onset of pain. One theory is that it’s a relationship with the trigeminal nerve, which runs through the upper palate of the mouth. When something cold hits it, it may directly increase blood flow to the brain. Another theory is that a huge gulp of an ice-cold drink cools the blood; body’s quick attempt to warm up again is what causes the pain.

Dr. Serrado said it is hard to study headaches in a laboratory because it is difficult to recreate what triggered the headache but it is pretty straightforward to recreate what leads to a brain freeze. The researcher said he hopes to take some of the lessons learned from inducing a brain freeze to do further study on headaches in the lab. This explains at times, rare headache disorders, according to Neurologist Dr. Joshua Daniel of Shore Physicians Group.

The Brain Freeze Cure
It may hurt, but that pain is brief. Take it slow: These annoying aches happen when there is a rush of cold hitting the palate or roof of mouth at one time, so the key is to pump the brakes and take it easy when licking a frozen treat. This will allow the body to acclimate to the sudden cold temperature as well as let it warm up just a bit.

Pass on the straw. Sipping from a straw sends the chill straight to the roof of the mouth, just where it needs to go to set off that brain freeze. Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth, it may shorten the duration of the brain freeze by warming the area. There is some research that suggests caffeine prior to indulging in something cold may cut the risk of having a brain freeze due to the slight reduction in blood flow associated with the caffeine.

To learn more about managing headaches or to make an appointment with Dr. Daniel call 609-365-6206.