Why do we sometimes experience a ‘brain freeze’ when eating ice cream?

If you sometimes take a large sip of an ice-cold drink or a bite of ice cream and suddenly experience a stabbing pain in the front of your head, then you are certainly not alone. This phenomenon is known as an ice headache, although you often hear the English term ‘brain freeze’. Where did that splitting headache suddenly come from?

Ice headache, or a slightly more accessible term for “sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia,” is a brief and intense pain in the back of the forehead and temples that occurs when we eat or drink something cold too quickly. For some people, it is even enough to breathe cold air to get it. Others never experience it in their lives. A happy accident? The pain disappears at least as quickly as it appears.

How does that ice cream headache come about?

We already know a lot about the origin of such a ‘brain freeze’, but not everything yet. “Scientists have shown that the blood vessels in our mouth and throat as well as the trigeminal nerve are involved in the process. This nerve is responsible for feelings in our face, among other things”.

What exactly is the main cause behind the ice headache is not yet certain. “Some scientists suspect that the shrinking of the blood vessels in our palate and throat triggers the trigeminal nerve to send a pain signal to the front of our brain. Other scientists suggest that the shrinking and then re-expansion of these blood vessels causes a sudden rush of blood toward the front of our brains. The increase in pressure then causes the instant excruciating pain.”

Trick to get rid of it faster

Usually, the pain disappears within 15 seconds. If that isn’t fast enough for you, you can try to shorten the headache by pressing your warm thumb or tongue against the roof of the mouth. You can also try to prevent the ice cream headache by eating more slowly.

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