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What is Brain Freeze?

By Sara Butler

Brain freeze has happened to just about everyone. You take that first drink of a cool beverage or lick of your ice cream cone and bam! – intense pain floods your head and radiates throughout your entire skull. Then as fast as it arrives, it goes away. What is this mysterious phenomenon and why does it happen?

Brain Freeze Defined

Brain freeze is also now known as an ice cream headache or cold stimulus headache. The fancy science term for it is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Brain freeze is officially categorized as a type of a headache, even if it is short lived and not as crippling as a sinus or a migraine headache.

Contrary to what the name implies, brain freeze doesn’t actually freeze your brain. It occurs when a cold substance is introduced to the soft palate at the back of your mouth. There is a bundle of nerves there that senses the cold and sends a message to the brain that triggers a reaction in the blood vessels. As a result, your head starts pounding. The pain usually only lasts for a few seconds but can last for several minutes before subsiding.

Brain freeze by itself is harmless and getting it shouldn’t make you nervous that something more serious is going on behind the scenes. But this condition is linked to migraines, which means people who have migraines are often more prone to brain freeze than those who don’t suffer from them.

What to Do

When you get brain freeze it should quickly subside on its own. But if you’re looking for ways to avoid it, there are a few strategies you can employ.

If you feel brain freeze coming on, you can slowly drink warm water. It will help to diminish the sensation the cold is producing on the palate. This will help reduce the duration of brain freeze symptoms you’re experiencing.

Another trick when you feel brain freeze coming on is to press the tip of your finger or tongue to the roof of your mouth. This will help to warm up the area the same way warm water does and lessen the intensity and duration of symptoms.


The best way to prevent brain freeze is to stay away from ice-cold beverages and foods, but that’s not always a realistic (or desirable) option. It can seriously take some of the fun out of summer, too!

You can enjoy icy treats but just make sure you do it slowly, especially at first. You can also try eating the foods toward the front of your mouth to avoid the nerve endings that can cause the problem in the first place.

You can avoid brain freeze and still have your cold treats -- just make sure you take steps to reduce your symptoms!

To learn more about your health and wellness, see your local chiropractor at The Joint Chiropractic in Fairfax, Va. 


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