I scream, you scream, we all scream for… brain freeze? Welcome to a typical summer of enjoying ice cream. It’s a delicious sweet treat, but eating ice cream too fast will cause a headache. The same goes for quickly gulping down cold drinks.
Like most aches and pains, brain freeze is your body’s way of saying something. In this case, it’s saying, “Hey, slow down!” Brain freeze isn’t dangerous. But by knowing the science behind it, you can enjoy ice cream free of pain.
What Is Brain Freeze?
Brain freeze is a type of a headache. It’s also called a cold-stimulus headache, or if you wanted to get technical, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.1 We’ll simply stick to “brain freeze.” There are many theories on why it happens.
According to a Q&A by Harvard health publishing at Harvard medical school, this is how a brain freeze develops. When something cold touches the back of the throat or roof of the mouth, the small blood vessels rapidly constrict and dilate. Nearby pain receptors pick up on this sensation and forward it to a large nerve called the trigeminal nerve. From there, pain signals are sent to the brain and face. Some of the symptoms of brain freeze include the following:2
- Rapid onset
- Sharp, piercing pain in the sinuses
- Stabbing pain in the forehead
- Lasts a few minutes
How Often Does Brain Freeze Occur?
Brain freeze is common, even if you don’t regularly have headaches. Roughly, 30–40% of people get them. However, since brain freeze is related to migraines, people who get migraines are more likely to get brain freeze.3 4
If you’re one of the 18% of the women or 6% of the men who suffer from migraines, be careful when eating cold foods.5
How To Prevent And Treat Brain Freeze
The obvious solution would be to stop eating ice cream. But where’s the fun in that? Follow these five tips to prevent and stop brain freeze.
1. Eat Slow
Brain freeze develops because the blood vessels are cooled too fast. To avoid it, take your time eating or drinking cold things. Resist the temptation to take a huge bite or gulp – no matter how good it is.
2. Lift Your Tongue
Your tongue is warm, so press it against the roof of your mouth. The bottom is warmer. So, as the ice cream touches the top, roll back the ice cream as much as you can. This will normalize your mouth’s temperature. Do it as soon as you feel the brain freeze. If you do it fast enough, the pain will subside faster.6
3. Press Your Thumb
Make use of the body temperature and press your thumb against the roof of your mouth. Of course, make sure your fingers are extra clean before doing so. The warmth may help reduce brain freeze symptoms.
4. Drink Warm Tea
Brain freeze usually disappears within a few minutes, but if you can, heat up some tea. Take a sip to warm your mouth. If all else fails, drink room-temperature water.
5. Breathe Into Your Hand
Your breath is warm, so make use of it! Cover your mouth with your hand and breathe. This “mask” will trap the warmth and increase your mouth’s temperature.
Ice cream isn’t the only thing that causes brain freeze. Ice pops, cold water, and slushies can all spark pain. To enjoy comfortably, take it slow.
|↑1, ↑4||Jankelowitz, S. K., and A. S. Zagami. “Cold‐stimulus headache.” Cephalalgia 21, no. 10 (2001): 1002-1002.|
|↑2, ↑6||What causes ice cream headache? Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.|
|↑3||What causes ice cream headache? Harvard Health Publishing, Harvard Medical School.|
|↑5||Lipton, Richard B., Marcelo E. Bigal, Merle Diamond, F. Freitag, M. L. Reed, Walter F. Stewart, and AMPP Advisory Group. “Migraine prevalence, disease burden, and the need for preventive therapy.” Neurology 68, no. 5 (2007): 343-349.|