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What Is Brain Freeze, Why Is It Killing Me, and Can I Have Seconds?

By Sara Butler

Brain Freeze

It’s a hot, steamy summer day. The sun is shining on your face as sweat dots your brow and the thought of something cold to cool you down sounds better than ever. You hit up your favorite ice cream stand, take a few licks, and then -- ow! Brain freeze strikes!

We’ve all been there. Well, most of us. That penetrating, intense pain right behind the eyes that ruins a perfectly good snow cone. Brain freeze is real, and battling it takes more than just giving up your favorite icy treats. It takes knowledge about what it is and how to avoid it.

Here is what you need to know to win the battle against brain freeze this summer and enjoy that popsicle unimpeded.

Brain Freeze: What’s the Deal?

While the cause behind brain freeze may be a mystery to some, scientists have figured out the cause of what they call “sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia” (say that three times fast).

Here’s what’s going on: When you eat something that is icy cold, the temperature of the palate in your mouth drops suddenly, causing the blood vessels to constrict. But almost right away, those blood vessels will dilate, causing blood to rush into the area in your body’s attempt to warm itself back up. This action is transmitted to the brain as a pain signal via the trigeminal nerve, the nerve that is responsible for feeling in the middle of your face and forehead.

So, there’s no actual freezing going on in your brain, it’s simply a mixed-up nerve signal when your mouth gets too cold.

Does Everyone Get Brain Freeze?

The truth is that almost anyone can get brain freeze. However, it’s something that seems to strike children more -- not because they’re more susceptible, but because they tend to hork down cold items such as popsicles and ice cream at the speed of light, setting off the reaction in the body.

If you are prone to migraines, you may also be more susceptible than the average person to brain freeze. So it’s something to keep an eye on.

Is Brain Freeze Preventable?

The good news is that brain freeze is 100 percent preventable and you don’t have to go ice cream-free to accomplish a brain freeze-less summer. All you need to do is slow down when enjoying an icy treat on a warm day. Try taking smaller sips or bites of whatever it is you’re eating and letting it melt in your mouth before you swallow so your soft palate doesn’t get the Elsa Ice Queen treatment.

If you can steer clear of sudden temperature shifts in your mouth, then you can stay brain freeze-free.

What Can You Do If You Get Brain Freeze

If you forget yourself and start eating your icy treat with a little too much gusto that results in brain freeze, there are a few things you can do to manage it at the moment. You can:

  • Press your thumb or your tongue to the roof of your mouth
  • Drink a glass of water that’s at room temperature

These moves can help to warm up your mouth and get it back to normal temperature.

Brain freeze isn’t the price you have to pay to enjoy a cold treat in the summer. Now that you know what causes it, how to avoid it, and what you can do if you get it, chase down that ice cream truck with abandon.

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