How To Ease Brain Freeze
On a hot summer day, theres nothing like taking a big gulp of ice-cold water or a slushy beverage, or going for a big mouthful of ice cream. Great way to cool down, right?
But then it hits you: a bolt of intense pain in the temples, forehead or behind the eyes or nose.
Brain freeze, otherwise known as ice cream headache, is technically known as cold neuralgia or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Big words for a short but-agonizing episode.
What Causes A Brain Freeze
Now that summers heating up, were all prone to one of the shortest-lived pain conditions: a brain freeze. If youve gotten a headache while eating something cold too fast and imagined ice crystals forming on your brain, well youre not exactly right. Thats not what causes a brain freeze. Heres what does cause this phenomenon.
What Causes Brain Freeze
Consuming cold foods or beverages cools down the roof of your mouth and throat. Right behind those areas is a major artery that delivers blood to the brain, called the internal carotid artery. This means that eating cold things actually cools down the blood that’s flowing to and from your brain, says Greg McLauchlin, MD, Assistant Professor of Neurology at Baylor College of Medicine.
When the blood flowing to your brain gets too cold, your brain sets off an alarm causing the headache known as brain freeze. This alarm warns you to stop or slow down the consumption of cold foods or beverages so that the temperature of the brain remains regulated.
This is why a brain freeze headache can hurt so badly: “Your brain has to send a signal that you cannot ignore. It can’t be a tickle. It can’t be an itch. It has to be something that makes you stop,” says McLauchlin.
In fact, brain freeze actually activates the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for extreme pain. And if you’ve had that sudden, acute brain freeze sensation, you know that the pain is impossible to ignore.
If you didn’t stop, “the blood vessels containing the cold blood can be constricted so that they do not make up as much of the circulation. As a last resort, you pass out and drop the ice cream cone. Don’t let it come to that,” says McLauchlin. Though, the chances of this worst-case-scenario happening are very unlikely.
How Is Brain Freeze Different From Other Headaches
Unlike other headaches, a brain freeze comes and goes quickly. It usually lasts only a few seconds to two minutes. It goes away on its own, without medicine or rest.
Other headaches can cause other symptoms. For example, a migraine can make you feel sick to your stomach . Some headaches can make it hard to tolerate bright light or loud noise. A brain freeze does not cause any other symptoms.
How Long Do Symptoms Last
Although there are currently over 200 case reports and studies exploring how Covid-19 impacts the brain, health experts have far more questions than answers.
“I know, from personal experience, patients who’ve been in the ICU and encephalopathic and go back to work and their usual activities in the span of weeks to months,” Liotta says.
“But there is definitely a substantial group of patients who are still dealing with some cognitive problems months to even a year out.”
To pin down the exact prevalence of Covid-19 brain-related problems, researchers need to undertake large-scale, longitudinal studies that track a wide range of patients â in and outside the hospitalâ over time.
When asked about “neuro-Covid,” Levine said, “I wish I had more concrete answers for you.”
“I feel like we’ve just been hit by a tidal wave and we’re all just kind of struggling to stay afloat. As scientists and clinicians, we’re like, ‘Wow, we really don’t know what’s going on,'” Levine says.
“We read papers every day, and there are different ideas, but at the moment, there are no solid answers.”
Why Does My Head Feel Funny
Most conditions that result in head pressure arent cause for alarm. Common ones include tension headaches, conditions that affect the sinuses, and ear infections. Abnormal or severe head pressure is sometimes a sign of a serious medical condition, such as a brain tumor or aneurysm. However, these problems are rare.
Why Does My Brain Freeze Last So Long
This sensation, which can cause a short-term headache lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes, may happen when you eat or drink something cold, like ice cream or ice water. Brain freeze is caused by the sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia nerves , which is a group of nerves near the trigeminal nerve in the brain.
Don’t Miss: How Long Can Your Brain Live Without Oxygen
Ways To Stop Brain Freeze
The next time you get a cold headache, try one of these methods to stop it in its tracks.
How to Stop Brain Freeze
- Spit out the offending food. This is not very attractive, but neither is your scrunched-up brain freeze face!
- Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. The heat and pressure are sometimes enough to stop the pain.
- Open your mouth and press your thumb on the roof of your mouth to warm it. Drink something warm to warm up your palate even room-temperature water can help.
- Open your mouth and cover it with your hand. Then breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. This will help warm the inside of your mouth.
- Some people get relief simply by tilting their head back for 10 to 20 seconds.
- Perform the Valsalva maneuver. This is the same maneuver to pop your ears open after youve been flying. Close your mouth, pinch your nose shut, and blow air into your nose.
Can You Pass Out From A Brain Freeze
And if youve had that sudden, acute brain freeze sensation, you know that the pain is impossible to ignore. If you didnt stop, the blood vessels containing the cold blood can be constricted so that they do not make up as much of the circulation. As a last resort, you pass out and drop the ice cream cone.
Read Also: Do Humans Only Use 10 Percent Of Their Brain
What Does A Brain Freeze Feel Like
Typically an ice cream headache will feel more prevalent on the same side of your head that the food or drink came in contact with on your palate. For some, though, the headache will feel as though its on both sides of your head after you swallow.
This competing constriction and swelling of capillaries is coincidentally very similar to your bodys response when you come inside from being out in the cold. While outside in the low temperatures, your skin and the tiny blood vessels around your cheeks and nose are cold and constricted. When you come inside they warm up again, dilating and causing you to appear flushed.
A brain freeze can happen any time of year, no matter the temperature outside. The reaction is dependent upon the temperature of the substance touching the roof of your mouth. Its not affected by the temperature of your surroundings.
About Brain Stem Death
Brain stem death is when a person no longer has any brain stem functions, and has permanently lost the potential for consciousness and the capacity to breathe.
When this happens, a ventilator keeps the persons heart beating and oxygen circulating through their bloodstream.
A person is confirmed as being dead when their brain stem function is permanently lost.
Read Also: What Is Serotonin In The Brain
Tips For Relieving Brain Freeze
Unlike other types of headaches, which last longer and usually require medication or other remedies, treating a brain freeze is as easy as warming back up. In addition, while painful, a brain freeze is actually harmless and isn’t anything to alert your doctor about.
If you feel a brain freeze coming on, quickly do one or more of the following:
- Get the cold food or drink out of your mouth
- Take a sip of warm water
- Press and hold your tongue against the roof of your mouth
While it’s sometimes hard to resist slurping your slushie as soon as it’s in your hands, avoiding a brain freeze altogether is as easy as enjoying your frozen treat slowly, taking small bites or slurps.
Why Do Brain Freezes Happen
While the pain typically only lasts about 30 seconds, brain freeze is actually a type of headache, believe it or not.
Theories abound as to whats happening during a cold-stimulus headache, which is more colloquially called an ice-cream headache. One of the leading theories surrounding brain freeze involves how your blood vessels and nerves react to rapid shifts in temperature.
When you take a big sip of your slushie, the roof and back of your mouth go from their usual temperatures to ones that are much, much colder. In an effort to warm your mouth back up, your brain sends blood and plenty of it. This rush of blood requires blood vessels in the surrounding area to rapidly expand, which, in turn, initiates signals of pain. But why do you ultimately feel the pain in your forehead and not your mouth?
Its thought that one of the most complex nerves in your brain, the trigeminal nerve, gets triggered during a brain freeze. Among other things, your trigeminal nerve controls sensation in your face. When this nerve is triggered during a brain freeze, a phenomenon called referred pain occurs where the place you feel the pain isnt actually where the pain signal originated. In this case, although its still unclear why, your trigeminal nerve reads the pain as originating from your forehead and temples instead of your mouth.
Don’t Miss: Why Does Brain Freeze Occur
What Exactly Is Brain Freeze
No, your brain doesnt actually become frozen. Brain freeze happens when a cold substance, like ice cream, is introduced behind the nose and palate, Lauren Natbony, MD, a neurologist at the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, tells Health. When the bundle of nerves in this part of the mouth sense something cold, they send an instant message to the brain, causing arteries and blood vessels to react. As a result, your head starts to throb.
The pain comes on soon after something cold has touched the palate and is typically referred to the forehead, says Anne MacGregor, MD, a headache specialist at the Barts and The London School of Medicine and Dentistry in the UK. The ache comes on fast, just as the cold temperature of your ice cream or drink hits those nerves. It lasts just few seconds but sometimes minutes, before fading away, says Dr. MacGregor.
Brain Death Is Different From Vegetative State
The difference between brain death and a vegetative state, which can happen after extensive brain damage, is that its possible to recover from a vegetative state, but brain death is permanent.
Someone in a vegetative state still has a functioning brain stem, which means:
- some form of consciousness may exist
- breathing unaided is usually possible
- theres a slim chance of recovery because the brain stems core functions may be unaffected
Someone in a vegetative state can show signs of being awake. For example, they may open their eyes but not respond to their surroundings.
In rare cases, a person in a vegetative state may show some sense of response that can be detected using a brain scan, but not be able to interact with their surroundings.
Also Check: Anushua Bhattacharya
Pain In The Brain Means Stop
Some scientists believe the trigeminal nerve responds to these events in your throat and mouth by sending a pain signal to the front of your brain. Whether the nerve is specifically responding to the cold or a sudden reduction of blood and oxygen supply to the brain or both is unclear.
Other scientists believe the pain is caused by a rush of blood to the front of your head. Shortly after the vessels in your throat and mouth shrink from the cold, these same vessels immediately expand. By expanding, additional blood and oxygen flood these areas. Although this blood rush might provide your brain with desperately needed blood and oxygen, it also might increase the amount of pressure in your head, causing pain.
An Unexpected Link Between Brain Freeze And Migraines
The sphenopalatine ganglion is a group of nerves responsible for painful migraines and cluster headaches.
These nerves are also sensitive to cold and can trigger brain freeze.
According to the Mayo Clinic, people who have suffered a head injury or have migraine headaches are more prone to cold-stimulus headaches.
But some research indicates that the opposite may be true, that migraine sufferers are less likely to experience brain freeze.
Oddly, some people with migraines find that eating ice cream can make a headache go away.
Researchers hope that learning more about this relationship between migraines and brain freeze might lead to a cure for migraine headaches.
Theres an interesting side note on how cold-induced headaches might help researchers find a migraine cure.
Migraines have always been difficult to study since the onset of a headache is unpredictable.
But now, researchers can replicate a short-lived migraine in study participants on demand by inducing brain freeze.
I cant imagine too many people signing up for that!
Also Check: Jahi Mcmath Decomposing
Donation After Brain Death
Families of a brain dead patient must, by federal regulations, be provided the option of organ donation. If the family declines donation, the mechanical ventilator, medications and fluids are discontinued, after which the heart stops. If the family says yes to donation, the regional organ procurement organization is involved. The donors body is kept functioning by artificial means, such as ventilated support until the recovery of organs and tissue for life-saving transplant.
If you support donation it is important to document your decision. This removes the burden off of your loved ones to make the decision once you have passed away.
How Can I Get Rid Of It
Brain freeze is temporary and not exactly something serious enough to take a sick day for, so it’s perfectly okay to just wait it out. But if it’s super intense, or you just don’t want to deal with the buzzkill, there are solutions. Dr. MacGregor suggests drinking warm water slowly as you sense brain freeze coming on the warm water will mitigate the cold sensation in your palate, and your head shouldn’t throb as intensely or for quite as long.
Another quick brain freeze fix is to press your tongue or the tip of your finger against the roof of your palate, which will warm up the nerves there similar to the way warm water can. While Dr. Natbony says that no science backs up this trick, it can’t hurt to give it a try. “If you introduce warmth during the brain freeze, it seems like that should work,” she says.
Recommended Reading: Does Prevagen Help With Memory Loss
Whats The Cure For Brain Freeze
As for the cure for brain freezes, scientists say there is no cause to worry. 98% of brain freezes last less than five minutes and are harmless. Inducing warmth in the mouth, such as by pressing ones tongue to the roof of the mouth, drinking a hot beverage or even ceasing to ingest the cold substance can provide instant relief from brain freezes.
How Do Brain Freezes Happen
When a person is drinking icy water, for example, the substance is passing through the mouth too quickly to be registered by the receptors in the tongue the cold is, however, changing the temperature in the back of the throat, neuroscientist Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., tells ScienceDaily. Brain freezes happen because two important arteries intersect at the back of the throat the internal carotid artery and the anterior cerebral artery responsible for ensuring constant blood supply to the brain. The coldness makes these arteries constrict a survival reflex to maintain your bodys core temperature,according to assistant professor of head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins, Wojtek Mydlarz. Soon after, the arteries dilate, or expand, facilitating a rush of blood within them. This rebound dilation sends a pain signal to the brain through a nerve called the trigeminal nerve, whose upper branch extends into the midface and forehead, Mydlarz says.
This is felt all the way up in the brains periphery where receptors called meninges to interpret the process as pain, Godwin adds.
Related on The Swaddle:
Recommended Reading: How Long Can You Hold Your Breath Before Brain Damage
Ways To Stop Brain Freeze In Its Tracks:
So, next time you reach for that Frozen Daiquiri, remember these 7 ways to prevent Brain Freeze, and enjoy!
DISCLAIMER: The advice I offer in response to your questions is intended to be informational only and generic in nature. Namely, I am in no way offering a definitive diagnosis or specific treatment recommendations for your particular situation. My intent is solely educational and my responses to your actual questions serve as springboard to discussion of a variety of dental topics that come up in day-to-day dental practice. Any advice offered is no substitute for proper evaluation and care by a qualified dentist.