What is a Brain Freeze?

“SPHENOPALATINE GANGLIONEURALGIA!!!” We’re guessing you have never heard anyone yell that out after licking an ice cream cone or slurping down a frozen beverage. Perhaps you have heard someone scream “Brain Freeze” though, the more common term for this scientific condition.

Man eating ice cream cone

A brain freeze usually occurs after a cold food or beverage touches the roof of the mouth (your palate). This sudden temperature change of the tissue stimulates nerves, causing rapid dilation and swelling of the blood vessels. This response is an attempt to direct blood to the area and warm it back up. The “headache” that follows is triggered when the pain receptors in your mouth signal your brain using the nerves in your face. The end result is a sudden, sharp pain and the usual exclamation that is synonymous with this phenomenon.

A brain freeze, also referred to as an ice cream headache, can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes in duration. Brain freezes can occur as frequently in the summer as they do in the winter because the brain’s response is to the food being consumed, not to the temperature outside.

To avoid getting a brain freeze it is recommended that you eat slowly because this reaction is triggered by an immediate temperature change in the mouth. If you do suffer a brain freeze, try pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth to warm the blood vessels. Other suggested tricks include holding your head back or breathing in through mouth and out through the nose to pass warmer air through the nasal passages.

With the weather getting warmer and more people indulging in ice cream and other frozen treats, expect to hear someone yelling out “Brain Freeze” soon. When they do, be sure to share your new found knowledge about this common sensation.