What is brain freeze and why do we get it?

Published 8:39 am Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Question: What is a brain freeze?
Answer: Brain freeze is practically a rite of summer. It typically happens when the weather is very hot and you eat ice cream or gulp something ice cold too quickly. Brain freeze is also known as ice cream headache, cold stimulus headache, and sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia (now that’s a mouthful!). Thankfully it’s short-term.
You’re enjoying an ice cream or frozen drink when suddenly a lightning bolt of severe pain shoots to the top of your head. Thirty seconds later the pain subsides and you’re back to eating, but a little more cautiously. You’ve just experienced the weird phenomena known as brain freeze. At the time you’ve probably wondered… Why does this happen? Is it dangerous?
No one knows for sure what causes it but here are a few possible explanations.
• One theory is that when severe cold hits the nerve on the roof of your mouth it causes referred pain. Referred pain is when the pain occurs in one place in the body but is felt elsewhere.
• Another theory is that very cold food temporarily constricts the capillaries and alters blood flow to your brain, causing localized pressure and a brief headache.
• A third theory is that cold-stimulus headaches are a defense mechanism to protect the brain from temperature fluctuations and keep it warm. Your brain is very delicate, and obviously vitally important, so your body will protect it at all costs.
Cures commonly involve warming the roof of the mouth. You can do this by holding your tongue against the roof of your mouth or open your mouth and press your thumb on the roof of your mouth (Note, this is not a good look in public!) Using a spoon instead of a straw can help. Drinking through a straw channels the cold liquid directly to the nerve that triggers pain. If you use a straw, aim it towards the front or side of your mouth, not directly onto your palate.
Scientific studies support what you probably already know, that you can largely avoid brain freeze by eating frozen food s-l-o-w-l-y.
Here are some interesting facts you can use to impress your friends the next time they get a brain freeze.
• Around 30 percent of the population has never experienced a brain freeze.
• There are no pain receptors in the brain so the pain is not actually in your brain.
• The Slurpee, invented by 7-Eleven, the convenience store chain, is the worst food for causing brain freeze. They claim to have coined the term “brain freeze.”
• Dogs love ice cream but no one knows for sure if dogs get brain freeze — but from the reactions some pet owners have observed, it seems likely that they do.
Researchers hope that learning more about brain freeze might lead to a cure for migraine headaches. Migraines have always been difficult to study since the onset of a headache is unpredictable. But researchers can replicate a short-lived migraine in study participants at will by inducing brain freeze.
Any volunteers?
Vickie Clark is the Director of the Carter County UT Extension Office and also serves as the Family and Consumer Sciences Agent. If you have questions or need any information related to Family and Consumer Science contact her at the UT Extension Carter County, 824 East Elk Ave., Elizabethton, call 542-1818 or email at vclark@utk.edu.

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