The 'Brain Freeze' Phenomenon: The Mysteries Of Ice Cream Headaches

Jun, 2023 - by CMI

Researchers believe the brains fast cooling causes the abrupt discomfort. It increases blood flow to warm the area, which causes blood vessels to expand, causing pain.

These frosty headaches might be alleviated by slowly eating cold foods or warming your tongue.

Key facts:

  1. Rapid cooling causes "brain freeze," a sudden head pain.
  2. The brain's heat response causes the roof of the mouth's blood vessels to expand, causing pain.
  3. Consuming cold items slowly or warming the roof of the mouth can prevent "brain freeze," which is unpleasant but harmless.

Ants, mosquitoes, and sunburns ruin summer picnics, barbecues, and poolside lazing. Ice cream and fizzy slushies can cause "brain freeze," a splitting headache.

How do we enjoy a chilly treat without a "brain freeze"? Virginia Tech physician Kristofer Rau outlines the science behind quick-onset headaches and how to avoid or treat them faster. "Brain freeze" or "ice cream headache" is severe head pain from cold drinks or foods. Brain temperatures are set.Reheating your head after a cold stimulation is normal. Your mouth's roof arteries rapidly boost warm blood flow.The brain misinterprets nerve cells' sudden blood vessel enlargement.  The abrupt blood vessel enlargement creates a burst of activity in the nerve endings in the roof of your mouth, which the brain interprets as something we need to pay attention to and act on promptly.Progressive blood vessel size changes seen by nerve endings cause most headaches.

"Although pain is extremely unpleasant, it is the brain's natural way of protecting the body, even if a temporary cold stimulus does not cause actual harm. "Brain freeze" is harmless and should subside within a minute or so. “Everyone is susceptible to experiencing a 'brain block'. If you experience "brain freeze," sip something at room temperature or flatten your tongue against the roof of your mouth in order to quickly warm up. Eating or imbibing cold products slowly allows the body to acclimate to the temperature, thereby reducing the risk of "brain freeze." 

Avoiding cold foods is the only method to avoid them. Summer without ice cream and popsicles seems melancholy, but it may be worth the occasional "brain freeze."