Why Do We Get Brain Freeze The Truth Behind Your Ice Cream Headache
Fact checked by Kidadl Team
Everybody enjoys eating something or the other but almost all people like eating ice-cold ice cream on a hot day.
What happens when the ice cream is too cold and hits you right in the head immediately after eating? This can result in one of the most painful headaches, a brain freeze!
Brain freeze is known as a referred pain where tiny muscles around blood vessels constrict and relax suddenly. On a hot summer day, what hits the most is an appetizing frozen drink or an ice cream instead. If you eat that icy delicacy too fast, you could feel terrible ice cream headaches. The biological name of brain freeze is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, popularly known as ice cream headache is a cold stimulus pain in your head or forehead.
What causes brain freeze? The reason for such terrible pain can be a sudden rush of blood in your nerves. The intensity of the pain in the head generally begins within seconds and can rapidly reach an extreme point of intolerance, mostly within fractions of seconds. If you are interested in more such fun facts, you must check out why do people pass out on rides? Andwhy do people breathe into paper bags?
What Is Chemo Brain
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As many as 3 out of 4 people with say theyre not as mentally sharp. Itâs often caused by your chemotherapy medicines, but it can also come from the itself or other problems like infection, low counts, , sleep problems, or stress.
The Science Behind Brain Freeze
Believe it or not, scientists arent 100% certain what causes brain freeze however, because so many people experience these ice cream headaches, its been a topic of discussion in the medical community.
According to Medical News Today, scientists believe brain freeze headaches are caused by the rapid constriction of blood vessels in the palette. This happens because your capillaries, which are branches of blood vessels, are narrowed when exposed to colder foods.
When your capillaries narrow, the amount of blood flowing to your brain changes, thus causing a headache. That means your brain freeze headache is a result of the change in blood flow.
When your palette is warmed, you stop having a brain freeze headache because your capillaries expand. Its believed that the fast-paced changes cause your blood vessels to widen and your nerves to react.
Anterior Cerebral Artery Theory
Another theory into the cause of cold-stimulus headaches is explained by increased blood flow to the brain through the anterior cerebral artery, which supplies oxygenated blood to most medial portions of the frontal lobes and superior medial parietal lobes. This increase in blood volume and resulting increase in size in this artery is thought to bring on the pain associated with a cold-stimulus headache.
When the anterior cerebral artery constricts, reining in the response to this increased blood volume, the pain disappears. The dilation, then quick constriction, of this blood vessel may be a type of self-defense for the brain.
This inflow of blood cannot be cleared as quickly as it is coming in during the cold-stimulus headache, so the blood flow could raise the pressure inside the skull and induce pain that way. As the intracranial pressure and temperature in the brain rise the blood vessel contracts, and the pressure in the brain is reduced before reaching dangerous levels.
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.
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Also Known As An Ice Cream Headache Doctors Say The Condition Is Harmless But It Does Hurt
Who hasnt had a delicious milkshake, Popsicle or ice cream cone interrupted by the summertime curse known as a brain freeze? The pain starts on the roof of your mouth and within an instant feels like lightning bolts bouncing inside your skull. Then poof! A few seconds later, the discomfort disappears.
Just because the pain caused by a brain freeze, or ice cream headache, is fleeting doesnt mean its any less real. In fact, doctors have an official name for the unpleasant condition sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia but good luck pronouncing it .
So, whats going on inside your head during a brain freeze?
You can think of it almost like a cramp, says Wojtek Mydlarz, director of head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins Medicine. When you move too quickly, you might get a little strain or sharp pain.
Similarly, when we eat too much ice cream too fast, it surprises your body.
Youre shocking your system. Youre shocking your throat, your palate and your tongue from the cold, especially when its hot outside, says Mydlarz.
In response to the coldness, blood vessels in the roof of your mouth tighten while something known as the trigeminal nerve sends a message to your brain saying that the body needs to turn up the thermostat. The brain responds by sending warm blood to your mouth, loosening the blood vessels there.
When your body recovers from the cold exposure and tightening of blood vessels, thats when you get that very sharp headache, says Mydlarz.
What Causes Brain Freeze
There are several theories about the causes of brain freeze.
It is thought that when severe cold hits the nerve on the roof of your mouth, it causes referred pain.
Referred pain is pain that originates in one place in the body but is felt elsewhere.
Another premise is that very cold food temporarily alters blood flow to your brain, causing localized pressure and a temporary pain.
A final explanation is that cold-stimulus headaches are a defense mechanism to protect the brain from temperature fluctuations and keep it warm.
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How Is The Disease Treated
Currently, there is no treatment that can cure or control CJD, although studies of a variety of drugs are now in progress. Current treatment for CJD is aimed at easing symptoms and making the person as comfortable as possible. Opiate drugs can help relieve pain if it occurs, and the drugs clonazepam and sodium valproate may help relieve myoclonus. During later stages of the disease, intravenous fluids and artificial feeding also may be used.
How Long Brain Freeze Lasts And How To Treat It
Unlike migraines and other types of headaches, brain freeze pain will usually dissipate in 30 seconds or less, says McLauchlin. But it can last up to a couple of minutes.
The way to “treat” brain freeze is to stop or slow down the consumption of whatever is triggering the pain.
“It only lasts as long as it takes for the blood to warm back up. And so the faster the blood warms up, the shorter it lasts,” says McLauchlin.
If you want it to go away even quicker, you can have a warm drink if you have one handy.
Once the brain freeze dissipates, you can get back to enjoying your food or beverage more slowly this time.
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How Harmful Are Brain Freezes And Why Are They So Painful
Whenever you might get a brain freeze, you might think about how harmful brain freeze can be. The reality is that a brain freeze can turn out to be painful, but its not harmful and it goes away on its own in a few minutes. It can happen that a brain freeze might make you feel very uneasy, but fortunately, its harmless.
The ice cream headache is very much painful because the pain is sharper than the pain of migraine. People could also pass out from a brain freeze. However, in most cases, a brain freeze lasts for not more than ten minutes.
If you do not stop eating or drinking whatever has triggered brain freeze, the blood vessels with cold blood present will become constricted, resulting in a blockage in the circulation, leading to you passing out as a result of brain freeze.
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The Scoop On Ice Cream Headache
What causes ice cream headaches? Nothing serious, says Wojtek Mydlarz, assistant professor of otolaryngologyhead and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins. He explains:
There are several theories about what makes this happen. The one that probably makes the most sense is that when you eat or drink a large quantity of very cold food or liquid, you drop the temperature of the palate pretty substantially. The blood vessels automatically constrictits a survival reflex to maintain your bodys core temperature.
After the squeeze, Mydlarz says, the blood vessels open up quickly. 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, he says.
Mydlarz says ice cream headache is an example of referred pain when changes happening in one part of the body signal pain in another. In this case, the tiny muscles around the blood vessels in the palate are tightening and relaxing suddenly, but the sensation is experienced higher up in the head
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How Does Brain Freeze Work
You take a bite of your creamy, delicious ice cream as you sit in the warm sun. It melts on your tongue, so you take another bite. Then another.
However, you end up eating your ice cream too quickly, and you soon find yourself having an ice cream headache. Your head feels dizzy, and youre having a hard time feeling your tongue.
Brain freeze happens to everyone, but whats the science behind it? Heres why you get brain freeze headaches whenever you quickly eat ice cream, popsicles, slushies, and cold drinks.
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.
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What Is Brain Freeze
Brain freeze is a type of headache triggered by the consumption of very cold foods or drinks.
Its also called a cold headache or an ice cream headache since eating ice cream is a common trigger, but it can even be caused by drinking ice water.
Cold-stimulus headache is a recognized medical condition listed in the most recent edition of The International Classification of Headache Disorders.
Sometimes its called a trigeminal headache referring to the trigeminal nerve, the largest nerve in your brain.
Its scientific name is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia which literally means pain of the nerve located on the roof of your mouth.
A brain freeze headache can be extremely painful, but fortunately is short-lived, usually lasting less than 10 seconds and rarely lasting more than 30 seconds.
How Is Cjd Transmitted
CJD cannot be transmitted through the air or through touching or most other forms of casual contact. Spouses and other household members of people with sporadic CJD have no higher risk of contracting the disease than the general population. However, exposure to brain tissue and spinal cord fluid from infected persons should be avoided to prevent transmission of the disease through these materials.
In some cases, CJD has spread to other people from grafts of dura mater , transplanted corneas, implantation of inadequately sterilized electrodes in the brain, and injections of contaminated pituitary growth hormone derived from human pituitary glands taken from cadavers. Doctors call these cases that are linked to medical procedures iatrogenic cases. Since 1985, all human growth hormone used in the United States has been synthesized by recombinant DNA procedures, which eliminates the risk of transmitting CJD by this route.
Both brain biopsy and autopsy pose a small, but definite, risk that the surgeon or others who handle the brain tissue may become accidentally infected by self-inoculation.
Special surgical and disinfection procedures can markedly reduce this risk. A fact sheet with guidance on these procedures is available from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke and the World Health Organization.
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Is A Brain Freeze Dangerous
A brain freeze may seem like a bad thing at first, but the pain could actually be good. By forcing you to stop eating that delicious but cold treat, the pain from a brain freeze may protect your brain from losing its continuous supply of blood and oxygen.
If youre worried about a brain freeze, try slowing down. It may be hard with something as delicious as a Bomb Pop on a hot summer day, but at least it will last longer.
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How Can It Be Stopped
Sleep hygiene is the number one way to prevent episodes from happening. This term refers to various practices and habits revolving around sleep. Establishing a bed time and wake up time, daily exercise routine, and limited caffeine intake are all great sleep hygiene practices. Daily exposure to sunlight helps maintain a healthy sleep-wake cycle too.
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Prevent Brain Freeze Next Time You Eat Or Drink
Of course, the easiest way to keep brain freeze from striking is to avoid consuming ice-cold food and beverages, says Dr. MacGregor. But in the summer, or on a sunny warm vacation, that’s not all that realisticor fun.
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So prevent brain freeze from happening in the first place by eating your ice cream very slowly, especially during that initial bite or lick, so the nerves in your palate aren’t overwhelmed with the cold sensation. Or try eating cold food toward the front of your mouth, which helps you avoid the sensitive nerve endings toward the back that trigger brain freeze, suggests Dr. Natbony.
If none of these solutions help, Dr. Natbony also advises that you heat your cold food to a warmer temperature before putting it in your mouth. So if you can handle a soupy, warm pint of rocky road, stick your bowl in the microwave for a couple of seconds before devouring it.
The Connection Between Ice Cream Headaches And Migraines Isnt Fully Understood
Some early attempts to understand ice cream headaches suggested they might be a sub-type of migraines, because both involve disordered responses to sensory stimuli. The widening and narrowing of blood vessels that occurs during ice cream headaches is a pattern that could explain some migraine headaches. Others have argued that the pain of ice cream headaches is a type of referred pain, a mysterious but well-known phenomenon in which a stimulus in one part of the body causes pain in another.
The connection between ice cream headaches and migraines isnt fully understood, though the link is commonly accepted. A 2001 study conducted by neurologist Peter Mattson of Swedens University Hospital found that women who had experienced at least one migraine within the previous year were twice as likely to develop a headache from cold water as those who were migraine-free.
Palate and brain
And in 2004, a Turkish neurologist named Macit Selekler rounded up patients who suffered either migraine headaches or tension headaches. Together with his colleagues, Selekler then administered the ice test, which required that patients use their tongue to hold an ice cube against their palates. The test resulted in headaches for nearly 60% of his patients, and of those, more than 80% were from the migraine group.
Children who take time to eat ice cream tend not to get the headaches, research suggests
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Why Are Stroke Victims So Mean
Anger and aggression seems to be a behavioral symptom caused by disinhibition of impulse control that is secondary to brain lesions, although it could be triggered by other peoples behavior or by physical defects. Kim said anger and aggression and another symptom common with recovering stroke patients are