One minute you’re enjoying a refreshing slushie and the next you’re wincing with pain. We’re all familiar with that dreaded feeling–brain freeze. Although this feeling lasts only a few seconds or minutes, it can be the nuisance. What exactly causes this ice cold-induced headache? We break down the cause of this occurrence and how to prevent it.
What is Brain Freeze?
While being called brain freeze, it’s not your brain isn’t actually freezing. The scientific name for brain freeze is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, which means “pain of the nerve located on the roof of your mouth”. With an estimated 30% of ice cream eaters experiencing this phenomenon, a cold stimulus headache is caused when something cold hits your palate–the roof of your mouth. When the nerves in this area sense something cold, it sends a message to your brain resulting in a throbbing headache. Another theory for brain freeze asserts that extremely cold food temporarily alters the blood flow to your brain causing a headache. Some believe that the pain you experience from eating ice cream too quickly is a defense mechanism protecting your brain from getting cold. A study concluded that a warm rush of blood gets the vital organ warm. The skull translates the pressure of the rush of blood into a headache. Regardless of the cause of brain freeze, what’s clear is that it is excruciating.
How Can You Stop It?
When you feel brain freeze coming on, it is recommended that you drink warm or room temperature water. Warm water diminishes the cold sensation on your palate. While this won’t completely stop the pain, it eases it a bit.
Breathe Into Your Hand
Another way to stop the pain of brain freeze is to cover your nose and mouth with your hand and breath in and out through your mouth. This serves the same purpose as drinking the water as it warms your palate.
Use Tip of Your Tongue or Finger
A well-known brain freeze cure is to push your tongue or the tip of your finger on the roof of your mouth. By doing this, you are warming your cold-stricken nerves.
Tilt Your Head
If you’re in public and don’t want to look crazy with your fingers in your mouth, some have found relief by tilting their head back for 10 seconds. There isn’t a scientific reason why this method works but its worth a try.
Warm Food Before Swallowing
No, you don’t have to stick your ice sundae in the microwave, just give the cold substance time to warm up before you swallow it.
How Can You Prevent It?
Savor the Flavor
The most obvious way to prevent brain freeze is to not eat ice-cold food and drinks, but how realistic is that? In order to enjoy your favorite summertime treats and drinks without worrying about brain freeze killing your buzz, consume them as slow as you can–especially during the first bite or sip.
Avoid Sensitive Nerves
Another precaution you can take is to try to eat cold food toward the front of your mouth; this allows you to avoid the sensitive nerve endings that cause brain freeze.
Say No to Slushies
One other thing that you should avoid if you don’t want to experience a “cranium-cramp” is to steer clear from slushies for they have been found to produce brain freeze the most often.
Ditch the Straw
If Slurpees are your favorite summer beverage but you don’t want to endure a headache, allow it to warm up a bit before gulping it down. Some even suggest using a spoon instead of a straw for they increase the risk of experiencing brain freeze.
Warm it Up
No, you don’t have to put your ice cream sundae in the microwave. Since brain freeze usually happens after you swallow, when you take a bite of your ice cream, let it sit on the roof of your tongue to warm it up. Although this method seems counterproductive, it’s worth a try the next time you take a bite of an ice cold popsicle or ice cream cone.