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Brain Freeze Adventures

Updated on March 4, 2009



The specifics surrounding my first brain freeze experience are well... let's say, frozen in time. The lingering effects, however, are not.

The truth is out. I'm a brain freeze patient. A frigid head sufferer. And an anomaly in my own home.

Oh yes, being mightily susceptible to the skull-piercing bitterness of the cold headache can be a fragile and somewhat anxious reality.

It stinks being cautious around tempting bowls of jamocha, mocha cream, or cherry rocky road. How I'd love to devour all that frozen goodness in rapid fashion. But I can't. My brain (and the roof of my mouth won't let me).

Poor luck and a twisted link in the gene chain strikes. Yes, I'm a brain freeze patient. Thank goodness I'm not alone. It's a family thing. And like many other things in life, it starts at home; in this case, the dinner table.

Memories Revisited! I've been here MANY TIMES!
Memories Revisited! I've been here MANY TIMES!
A bit of Heaven in a bowl!
A bit of Heaven in a bowl!



Visualize the scene. Still savoring the effects of a satisfying meal, my father leaves our butcher block table to begin his habitual trek to the freezer. His goal: ice cream. His favorite: All of it. You get the picture.

My family loves ice cream, especially my father. As a kid, it was the dessert of choice hands and spoons down. We tore through the frozen delight like it was... well, ice cream. And every time, the brain freezes would follow. All of us living within those walls suffered the curse of the cranium crusher. In fact, brain freezing was so common in our home, it was comical.

The episodes often came in rounds and usually began with my father; since he ALWAYS finished dinner first and he NEVER ate anything slow. Ice cream was no different. Actually, he probably ate it quicker than anything else, skull cryogenics and all. And so it would begin.

The tell-tale face-grimacing, skull-pounding, teeth-clenching, and eye-grabbing pain were often witnessed in circular, phasing cycles. At any given time, one of us felt some stage of the brain-freezing process. It was funny. And there were sounds as well. Anything from a piercing ‘AAAGGGGHHH' to a muffled ‘OOOOHHHHHEEEE' contributed to the cacophonous chorus. Like I said, it was normal to us. I still think it is. It wasn't until I met my future wife that I began to change my stance, albeit just a bit.

The Culprit many times!
The Culprit many times!


While we were dating, my wife and I enjoyed cruising around downtown Columbia, MO soaking in the local sights and fare. In particular, one sultry, September evening stands out.

As we drove around looking for an escape from the heat, we stopped by the local Dairy Queen. Being young and entranced, we sublimely chose the same menu item, the Mr. Misty, (which is really just a front for frozen sno-cone syrup and water). Anyway, as my better half was thoroughly relishing her misty, I was about to embark on the most intense, head-numbing journey of my young life.

It only took seconds after leaving the drive thru to hit me, the mother lode of all cranium crushers, the peak of brain freeze anti nirvana. I began to yell. A lot. Not that the pain was foreign to me, but to my then fiancé, it was unraveling.

"Rob, are you .... OK?"

"I'm having a brain freeze. The big one."

"You're having a what?"

"A brain freeze....... AAAAAGGGHH"

Only later would she tell me how freaked she really was. To her, it was scary. She had NEVER seen anyone have such a brain freeze before.

"What? You've never had a brain freeze? Are you alive? Are you a freak?" (Such wisdom from the frozen brain of a young, twenty-one-year-old).

Turns out she is, sort of, because no one in her family, and I mean NO ONE, has brain freezes. At first, I didn't believe her. But now that we've been together for over 18 years, and having met almost her entire kin, she's not lying. Somewhere down the gene pool lane, her family totally skipped on by without a hitch. Amazing! Crazy really!

Never have I seen an entire family tear through slurpees, Icees, popsicles, or anything cold with such joyful freedom. They have zero, zip, nada side effects. In honesty, it makes me kind of bitter...cold.

But anyway, back to my story.

This was the king of brain freezes. I thought my entire head was going to explode leaving nasty remnants in the front seat of my wife's historic Datsun. Man did this baby hurt. And it went on for awhile. At least 30 minutes I think. My wife will tell you it was only about 30 seconds. But when you're in pain, time stands still. And anyway, 30 minutes sounds better to all your buddies around the billiards table.

Brain freezes. Yes indeed. They are a frozen in my DNA.


The cold nerve connects to the brain nerve, the brain nerve connects to the pain nerve, the pain nerve connects to the freeze nerve, and there you have it all!
The cold nerve connects to the brain nerve, the brain nerve connects to the pain nerve, the pain nerve connects to the freeze nerve, and there you have it all!


Now that a bit of my frozen past has been thawed... it's time for a simple lesson: Just what the heck causes these things?

They have many names: Brain freezes, cold headaches, ice cream headaches, or frozen brain syndrome. But no matter what you call them, the slow, to moderately-stabbing pain is undeniable.

The clinical term, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, is a mouthful itself. The pain is a pain in the brainy you know what.

In short, brain freezes are caused when the blood vessels in the roof of the mouth constrict due to the cold, and then expand back to their normal (warmed) condition. In essence, the pain is a symptom of increased blood flow to the brain designed to keep it warm. That's it.

Our brains sense the restricted blood flow, tell the right nerves to do the right things, and voila. You have a lovely, biological party going on. Too bad there's a lot of spiking pain involved. But it's a party none the less.

I liken such parties to a vise nudging its teeth around my head. The squeezing begins behind my eyes, works its way across my forehead, down my arm, into my hands, jumping behind my back and finally landing in my toes... or so it seems.

I've read there are degrees of brain freeze and I'm convinced my casefile lands on the severe stack. It's a common funny where I'm from that it doesn't take much to set these off. Sometimes just a glass of cooled water (no ice) will do it. -- I've learned to ignore the stares.

I've also learned to take things in moderation, take my pain in stride and accept it as part of who I am. After all, it's not a disease, it's a defense mechanism. So I guess I can take some comfort in knowing that my body's defense against all things yummy and cold is still intact.

So on those really hot days in August or September, when I want to enjoy a Mr. Misty or extra large sno cone, my brain will have complete and total cold consciousness.

So I have that going for me.

A Quick Ice Cream Poll

If you were stranded on an island with one flavor of ice cream, what would it be?

See results

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