Brain freeze hits like an icy steam train on the Trans-Siberian Railway.
One minute you’re enjoying a 99 (with a Flake), a Magnum or a big old bowl of Italian gelato. The next, your brain feels like it’s in a vice and your mouth is saying ‘no’.
Most of us have been there.
Upsetting, really. Ice cream is supposed to be a pleasurable experience. So too are slush puppies and ice-cold cola.
We’ve got some handy tips for how to combat brain freeze below. First, though, it might be useful – or interesting, maybe? – to find out how and why the cold-stimulus headaches occur.
How brain freeze happens
Brain freeze is just that – a headache brought about by the cold. The low temperature is picked up by SPG nerves (more on these in a moment) and triggers a reaction.
Brain freeze happens more regularly to those prone to migraines and headaches. These factors are dictated by all manner of reasons. Genetics play a part. Around 30-40 per cent of people are believed to be more prone to headaches.
Brain freeze is a cold-induced pain. It’s scientifically known as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.
The SPG nerves affected are a group of nerve cells connected to the trigeminal nerve, which is central to headaches, according to Curejoy.
The cluster of nerves can be found behind your nose and is responsible for transmitting information about sensations such as pain. So you want to keep them happy.
Nasal congestion and crying are also triggered by these nerves. Which explains watery eyes with brain freeze.
"When you have something cold, it touches the back of your throat and the roof of your mouth, causing tiny blood vessels in the region to suddenly constrict and then to dilate equally rapidly a little later," Curejoy explains.
"The discomfort sensed by pain receptors in the area causes the message of pain to be sent via the bundle of nerves to the trigeminal nerve and on to the brain.
"The pain sensation due to the cold stimulus is interpreted as being from the head instead of the mouth by your brain – something known as referred pain. The result is a brain freeze or an ice-cream headache."
Unlike some headaches, brain freeze is usually bilateral, which means it hits both sides of the head. This isn’t always be the case.
It’s not just temperature
No. Quick ingestion of cold foods can also be the cause of brain freeze.
If you consume something cold too fast, your receptors will react and feelings amplified. The faster you eat, the more likely the pain.
Unfortunately, if you have a family history of migraines and headaches, chances are you too will suffer.
One study of migraine sufferers found that 47.9 per cent tested positive for ice-induced headaches. That said, it’s not only these people – anyone can get a headache and there are loads of contributive factors.
What to do when you get brain freeze
Brain freeze is usually short-lived and tolerable. But sometimes the pain is near-unbearable and searing and you’ll want to try to quash it or ease the discomfort.
Your best bet is to wait the 5-10 minutes out. Sorry. But there are some effective tips.
Put your tongue on the roof of your mouth.
Brain freeze is linked to the cooling of your mouth and palate. It’s commonsense – the mouth divides your brain with nerves linked to it.
So by warming your mouth with your tongue, pressing it hard against the roof, it helps warm the cold.
This should help ease the severe chill and slowly transmit warmth to the nerves above. Keep your tongue in place for as long as you think necessary.
Drink something warm…
Sounds obvious. It is. Of course something warm will help warm your mouth and tell nerves to settle down.
Don’t have anything too hot – that will play havoc with your brain. But a warm piece of bread, even, will have a calming effect.
Oh yes, prevention is always better than cure. When you enjoy ice cream or iced tea and the like, try tasting it slow and steady.
If you pace yourself, your mouth is less likely to be triggered and your nerves won’t suddenly wake up and say, ‘hey, what’s all this!’
Dr Michael Sinkin also has brief tips via his blog
Many are the same, but it’s a shorter, snappier way to have a look at how to fight brain freeze.
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