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.
Why Do People Get Brain Freeze
Jacki Lyden gets to the root of the ice cream headache with Dr. Jason Rosenberg, director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center. It’s caused by irritation to a very specific set of nerves, he says.
JACKI LYDEN, host:
It’s hot outside. You’re going to be walking down the street. You’re going to see an ice cream truck.
Mr. CHRISTOPHER WALKEN : You’re going to treat yourself to a vanilla ice cream. You’re going to eat it too fast. You’re going to get an ice cream headache.
Mr. WALKEN: It’s going to hurt real bad. Right here for eight, nine seconds.
LYDEN: Christopher Walken playing the trivial psychic on Saturday Night Live and riffing his own performance in “The Dead Zone” – that great 1983 movie.
Now, an ice cream headache may be trivial but it got us thinking why do we get them at all? The truth behind the brain freeze on this week’s Science Out of the Icebox.
LYDEN: With us now is the director of the Johns Hopkins Headache Center, Dr. Jason Rosenberg, and he joins us from WYPR in Baltimore. Welcome to the show.
Doctor JASON ROSENBERG : Thank you for having me here, Jacki. I appreciate it.
LYDEN: Well, I hope you appreciate the careful research we did into this phenomenon.
Dr. ROSENBERG: Yes. Christopher Walken actually summarized ice cream headache very nicely there.
So, it’s one these quirky wiring problems of the nervous system that mislocalizes pain.
LYDEN: So, are certain people more susceptible?
What Makes A Brain Freeze Hurt
Theres a lot we know about how a brain freeze works. Theres also a lot we dont know.
Just beneath the skin on your face is a network of blood vessels that supply the face and brain with blood. Blood contains many nutrients like oxygen, which is essential for your brain to function. Tangled up in this network of vessels are tiny nerve endings connected to one another and the brain through the trigeminal nerve. This nerve makes it possible for you to feel sensations in your face, including pain.
Scientists believe the blood vessels in the throat and mouth and the trigeminal nerve are central to what makes a brain freeze hurt. But they dont quite agree on which is more responsible for causing the pain.
Most agree that eating or drinking something cold, too quickly, rapidly lowers the temperature at the back of your throat and roof of your mouth. Many also agree this causes the tiny blood vessels in these areas to shrink, allowing less blood to pass through them. This reduces their ability to supply your brain with necessary oxygen in the blood. What happens next is a little blurry.
Stand By A Refrigerator Or Something Else Thats Cold Before Eating Or Drinking
As it was mentioned earlier, people are more likely to experience a brain freeze when they are in a warm climate. So, if your body is as cold as the drink youre drinking, youre a little less likely to get the brain freeze that you would on a beach. Although this is not always the most practical solution, it is another one!
Treatment For Brain Freeze
The cure for brain freeze is actually very simple, and something you can do on your own. The moment you start to experience a brain freeze, press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
The heat from your tongue will transfer heat and energy to your sinuses behind your nose, which will then warm the nerve bundles that cause brain freeze. Keep your tongue firmly against the roof of your mouth until you feel the pain start to dissipate.
You can keep your tongue on the roof of your mouth for as long as it takes for the brain freeze to completely disappear.
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.
Does Brain Freeze Happen To Everyone
Not necessarily – yep, there are brain freeze virgins out there!
Everyone has a trigeminal nerve, but not everyone experiences brain freeze. Some peoples trigeminal nerve are more sensitive than others. This means less cold temperatures and shorter durations of exposure can be enough to cause brain freeze for some people, but not others.
If you find yourself being nailed by a brain freeze, youre going to want to act as fast as the brain freeze itself and remove the cold food or drink ASAP – this will stop or slow the nerves from contracting any further. Pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth or consuming something slightly warmer can help too. .
When To See A Doctor
As previously mentioned, brain freeze usually goes away pretty quickly, but severe headaches can be a sign of something more serious. If youre experiencing what some refer to as, the worst headache youve ever head, vision loss, dizziness, difficulty moving or speaking, seek immediate emergency care.
My rule of thumb is if youre experiencing headaches and taking pain medication multiple times a week, or its interfering with your quality of life consult with a headache medicine specialist. You dont have to live in pain. A trained neurologist will seek to pinpoint the cause of your headache, and find a proper treatment plan to get the pain under control, Dr. Krel shares.
Public Speaking Anxiety And Fear Of Brain Freezes
The fear of public speaking is the most common phobia ahead of death, spiders, or heights. The National Institute of Mental Health reports that public speaking anxiety, or glossophobia, affects about 73% of the population. The underlying fear is judgment or negative evaluation by others. Public speaking anxiety is considered a social anxiety disorder.
Brain Freeze Back Freeze And What To Do About Them
People who live in warm climates frequently experience something that has come to be known as a “brain freeze.” You’re probably familiar with it. You eat a big spoonful of ice cream, or you chug a frosty soda, and seconds later you experience excruciating pain in the front of your head.
This phenomenon is well known in medical science. There’s even a technical term for it, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. If you nibble at your ice cream or sip your cold drink, the blood vessels in your mouth have time to heat the food or drink so that the blood vessels in your head don’t experience a quick change in temperature. But if you eat or drink cold food or drink very quickly, you rapidly change the temperature at the back of your throat, where your internal carotid artery, which supplies blood to your brain, meets your anterior cerebral artery, which is where your brain tissue starts. The cold causes your internal carotid artery to shrink. This puts pressure on the meninges, the outer coating of the brain, which results in intense pain until circulation returns to your internal carotid artery.
What can you do to prevent these painful experiences of cold in your head, face, neck, and back? Here are some simple suggestions:
Brain freeze and back freeze don’t do permanent damage, unless you are outdoors and freezing. Take time to enjoy food and drink, and pain from cold will not be a problem.
How Long Does Brain Freeze Last 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.
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.
Rehearse To Increase Confidence
Practice but dont memorize. Theres no disputing that preparation will build confidence. Memorizing speeches will mislead us into thinking there is only one way to deliver an idea. Forgetting a phrase or sentence throw us off and hastens the brain freeze. Memorizing provides a false sense of security.
Practice with written notes. Writing out the speech may help formulate ideas. Practice speaking extemporaneously using bullet points to keep us on track.
Practice the flow of the presentation. Practice focusing on the message thats delivered instead of the precise words to use. We want to internalize the flow of the speech and remember the key points.
Practice recovering from a brain freeze. Practice recovery strategies by purposely stopping the talk and shifting attention to elsewhere. Then, refer to notes to find where we left off. Look ahead to the next point and decide what wed like to say next. Finally, well find someone in the audience to start talking to and begin speaking.
Be prepared for the worst. If we know what to do in the worst-case scenario , well have confidence in our ability to handle it. We do that by preparing what to say to the audience if our mind goes blank. Visualizing successful recovery of the worst will help us figure out what needs to be done to get back on track.
Fun Facts About Brain Freeze
Here are some interesting facts you can use to impress your friends the next time they get a brain freeze.
Instead of laughing at them.
Brain Freeze Fact #1
Not everyone experiences ice cream headaches.
Its estimated that only about 30% of ice cream eaters experience them.
Brain Freeze Fact #2
The pain of a cold headache does not actually occur in your brain because your brain has no pain receptors.
Brain Freeze Fact #3
The Slurpee was invented by the convenience store chain 7-Eleven.
While they did not coin the term brain freeze, they did get a trademark for it.
Brain Freeze Fact #4
Anecdotally, the worst food for causing brain freeze is a Slurpee or similar frozen drink.
A budding young scientist wanted to know for sure which causes the worse brain freeze, Slurpees or ice cream.
So, he made finding out his California State Science Fair project.
He found that a Slurpee-induced headache starts sooner, lasts longer, and is more intense than an ice cream-induced headache.
Brain Freeze Fact #5
A brain freeze does not freeze your brain cells.
But if they ever did freeze, they would be ruptured by ice crystals and turn to mush.
Brain Freeze Fact #6
Frozen foods and drinks wont change the temperature of your brain.
But neurosurgeons often cool the brain substantially during brain surgery.
This stops blood circulation to and within the brain, allowing surgeons to operate more easily.
Brain Freeze Fact #7
This applies to cats as well.
Brain Freeze Fact #8
Watch the Video
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 what’s 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?
It’s 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 isn’t actually where the pain signal originated. In this case, although it’s still unclear why, your trigeminal nerve reads the pain as originating from your forehead and temples instead of your mouth.
What Exactly Is Brain Freeze
No, your brain doesn’t 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.
Neuroscientists Explain How The Sensation Of Brain Freeze Works
- Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center
- Brain freeze is practically a rite of summer. It happens when you eat ice cream or gulp something ice cold too quickly. The scientific term is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, but that’s a mouthful. Brain freeze is your body’s way of putting on the brakes, telling you to slow down and take it easy.
Brain freeze is practically a rite of summer. It happens when you eat ice cream or gulp something ice cold too quickly. The scientific term is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, but that’s a mouthful. Brain freeze is your body’s way of putting on the brakes, telling you to slow down and take it easy. Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center neuroscientist Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., explains how it works.
“Brain freeze is really a type of headache that is rapid in onset, but rapidly resolved as well,” he said. “Our mouths are highly vascularized, including the tongue — that’s why we take our temperatures there. But drinking a cold beverage fast doesn’t give the mouth time to absorb the cold very well.”
Here’s how it happens: When you slurp a really cold drink or eat ice cream too fast you are rapidly changing the temperature in the back of the throat at the juncture of the internal carotoid artery, which feeds blood to the brain, and the anterior cerebral artery, which is where brain tissue starts.
“One thing the brain doesn’t like is for things to change, and brain freeze is a mechanism to prevent you from doing that,” Godwin said.
How To Lessen Brain Freeze
No one likes the feeling of a brain freeze headache, but some people are more prone to them. For example, if you have migraines, youre more likely to experience brain freeze. This is because they both occur in the same spot on the head.
If you end up with brain freeze, warming the palette will cause the headache to go away faster. Some ways you can do this are:
- Drink warm water. This will remove the cold feeling from your mouth and replace it with warmth.
- Remove the cold food. Dont keep eating your ice cream or drinking your slushy remove it so your palette can be exposed to warm air.
- Press your thumb or tip of your finger against the roof of your mouth. This can help draw heat to your pallet and alleviate the cold feeling.
Is Freeze Merely An Extension Of Surprise
Surprise is the emotion we feel when an unexpected event occurs, and we need to stop and process the scene in order to decide whether to fight or flee. The facial expression of surprise serves a functional purpose: our eyes widen to improve our peripheral vision to better process our surroundings, and we open our mouth and gasp in preparation to scream and/or run.
People also come to a standstill when surprised, as they devote all their energy to deciding whether what is unfolding before them is a threat, a joke, a harmless incident.
Often bystanders cop flak for not immediately intervening during an unexpected event such as an assault; but typically people are so shocked they remain rooted to the spot. In some cases a freeze response is more an extension of a surprise response.
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.
How Can We Prevent Brain Freeze And Eat Ice Cream In Peace
For a typical brain freeze, it will go away in less than 30 seconds or so, professional care is not needed. You can either wait a few seconds for it to clear up on its own or push your tongue to the roof of your mouth. Your tongue will help re-regulate your mouth to be warmer, advises Dr. Krel.
Its the brains job to control the temperature of your body, so brain freeze is essentially your brains way of signaling to slow down, adds Dr. Krel. If you experience brain freeze often, try eating a little slower or have warm water on standby to drink.
Keep Your Drink In The Front Of Your Mouth For A While Before You Swallow
As weird as this sounds, this will actually warm up your drink and not hit your palate when its at its coldest temperature. If you really want to enjoy the flavor of your cold drink but cant endure the pain you get from brain freeze, this is a perfect preventative measure for you!
All in all, the biggest takeaway is that brain freeze is an extremely unpleasant and painful sensation for those of us who experience it. Luckily, even without these strategies, brain freeze doesnt often last more than a minute. But, using a different plan of action to avoid brain freeze will help extremely. Especially since those of us that experience brain freeze, myself included, also experience migraines. Although migraines are much worse and theres medication to help with that issue, there is no reason for anyone to experience brain freeze! Our bodies are extremely smart and evolutionarily adaptive for having brain freeze, but every logical person knows they shouldnt be drinking something that is really cold too fast. Check out more things that can be migraine triggers.
So, just think about the pain you will inevitably experience when drinking a cold drink and use these tactics to make your life less difficult! Now that youve got the best tips, youre ready for the summer. Enjoy! Feel free to leave a comment below.
Blatt MM, Falvo M, Jasien J, et al. Cerebral vascular blood flow changes duringbrain freeze FASEB Journal. 2012;26:685.4
What Is The Freeze Response
The body is a pretty amazing thing. Both animals and humans possess the fight, flight, and freeze responses when it comes to dealing with fear and trauma. These responses are what allow us to instinctively assess and deal with dangerous situations.
Imagine that you are walking along and come upon a rattlesnake that is poised to strike. Your body senses the danger, and you respond by quickly moving away or fleeing from the angry snake. This assessment happens almost instantly and instincts take over to get you away from the danger. The same goes for the fight response. Exchange the snake for an angry person who you know you can’t outrun. Your response may be to try to fight that person instead of trying to flee.
The freeze response is a little different. Fight and flight responses have one thing in common: hope. There is hope that one or the other will get you out of danger and fear and return you to your normal state of being. The freeze response kicks in when there is no hope of fighting off, or fleeing from, the dangerous situation. It is the response that causes some animals to “play dead” instead of running or fighting, and sometimes it works.