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What Causes a Brain Freeze?

Updated on May 20, 2013

The So-Called Ice Cream Headache

For many adults and kids eating ice cream, smoothie, frozen yogurt, or 7-Eleven Slurpee is a pleasurable experience especially during a hot summer day. But this thing called "brain freeze", also called "ice cream headache", can sometimes ruin that pleasure, albeit temporarily in most instances. If you want to know what a "brain freeze" is, what causes it, or how to prevent it from your craving for icy beverages, then please read on.

What is Brain Freeze?

Anybody old enough to gulp down near-frozen beverages or some icy foodstuff have had at least a single bout of brain freeze at some point in their lives, either as kids or as adults (well, mostly as kids). Most of us have probably been aware that whenever something freezing-cold touches the palate (the roof of the mouth), "brain freeze" almost instantly follows, and that isn't something you wouldn't want to feel again. Be that as it may, it’s not really the “real cause” for it. There something in the inner-workings of the human body that brings on that “headache” we typically feel in the forehead. While many of us just treat it as something trivial, getting to know what really causes it and why it happens bring awareness on how amazing the human body really is. Besides, does the brain freeze sensation excite you? I guess not.


Going back to the question, "What Causes Brain Freeze?"

Brain freeze is actually the body’s defense mechanism in action. While a burning-hot something can be dangerous to any part of the human body, a freezing-cold object can equally be dangerous. Have you seen the devastating effects of frost bites? How about the intense burning sensation when you touch "dry ice" for a little bit longer than usual. Whenever we happen to gulp down a freezing-cold something such as a 7-Eleven Slurpee or that mouth-watering, fruit-flavored smoothie, and that freezing-cold something happens to touch the roof of the mouth, the brain, in an effort to avert any damage to the area as a result of freezing, immediately reacts by dilating the nearby blood arteries in order to divert large amounts of warm blood to the affected area which in this case, is the roof of the mouth. At the same time, the pain receptors sends a signal to the brain to alert the body of the “freezing danger” which prompts us to instantly stop putting into the mouth more of that near-frozen food or beverage.

However, one may ask why the pain is typically felt on the forehead and not on the affected spot on the mouth's palate. This is because of the fact that the pain signals are transmitted via the fifth cranial nerve, also known as the "Trigeminal nerve", a very sensitive nerve that also senses facial pain, and as such, triggers a so-called “referred pain”, a pain that is felt on another area of the face instead of the affected area.

How To Prevent Brain Freeze

To prevent brain freeze, do we need to abstain from eating frozen or near-frozen delights? Certainly not. Restraining yourself from taking in some flavorful, icy beverages means depriving yourself from such kinds of foods. Some people who happened to have a bout of brain freeze do swear (right after the pain has waned) by themselves to never ingest such kinds of beverages again. However, they usually end up consuming the same kinds of beverages at some point forward. Icy beverages are just tempting especially on a hot summer day.

The best way is to remind yourself to be always conscious of the fact that brain freeze can happen if you’re not careful when eating frozen delights. This way, you will have the inclination to take small to moderate amounts of any frozen delight into your mouth despite that craving.

Another way, should brain freeze seems inevitable or you made the unconscious mistake of scooping into your mouth more than a moderate amount of frozen delights, is to immediately give instant warmth to your palate by sticking your tongue up the palate the moment you start feeling the onset of brain freeze. Just take note that while this method has worked for many people, it doesn't necessarily mean that it will work for you.

Have you experienced "Brain Freeze"? Tell us something about it.

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