If you have ever experienced “brain freeze” or an “ice cream headache” from chowing down on a sundae too quickly, you may have wondered what was going on in your brain – and how to avoid that painful twinge next time you hit the frozen treats.
There are quite a few theories on what causes “brain freeze” to occur. Some people think that when a bunch of cold stuff hits the mouth’s trigeminal nerve, in the palate, it triggers a pain response. The trigeminal nerve senses pain in the face, so even though the ice cream actually hits the palate, the brain receives a signal of referred pain in the forehead.
Others believe that eating a frozen treat cools the air flowing through your sinuses, which causes the blood vessels near in the nasal cavity, near your forehead, to constrict and cause a headache. A third school of thought holds that the cold stuff affects blood flow in the cerebral arteries, making the arteries swell quickly and then quickly constrict. Either way, most people agree that your brain isn’t getting frozen at all – it just feels like it.
So how can you avoid these pesky headaches next time you pop a popsicle? While nothing has been proven to cut the pain once it starts, you can try drinking a warm liquid, using the tongue to warm up the roof of the mouth, or breathing deeply through nose and mouth. The best way to prevent an ice cream headache is to eat cold things slowly and not swallow them too fast. But when you’ve got a big, melty ice cream cone, that advice can be hard to follow.