Feel the Freeze: What Happens During Brain Freeze

Young couple sharing a milkshakeWe’ve all done it. Whether it was an ice cream cone that we were a little too excited about, or an icy beverage we gulped a little too fast, we’ve all gotten the dreaded “brain freeze.” But how much do you know about this strange phenomenon?

What is “brain freeze?”

Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (as it’s known in the scientific community) is a sharp, stabbing pain felt in the forehead when you eat or drink something that’s very cold too quickly. When the cold touches the super-sensitive bundle of nerves in the roof of your mouth, it causes the two main arteries leading to your brain to quickly dilate, leading to a sudden increase in blood flow. Your brain, which can’t actually feel pain itself, interprets that sensation as pain.

But why?

Well, that’s up for some debate. It could be that it’s a defense mechanism to protect your brain from a sudden drop in temperature (you certainly slam the brakes on that ice cream for a few seconds!).

Can I cure it?

The pain will wear off fairly quickly on its own, as the arteries constrict back to their original size and blood flow returns to normal. But why endure those 60 seconds of torture if you don’t have to? You can stop the pain in its tracks by downing a warm drink or, in a pinch, simply pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

What about preventing it?

You could always banish ice cream from your life, but who wants that? Instead, here are some tips for enjoying frosty treats pain-free:

  • Let it thaw or warm up a little first.
  • Keep it off the roof of your mouth; for example, turn your spoon upside down so that ice cream hits your tongue before the top of your mouth.
  • Take small sips or bites of the cold food or drink, and eat or drink slowly.