One moment you’re enjoying a nice cold treat with your two closest friends. The next, you’re doubled over in pain as a thunderous pain claps your temples. Unfortunately, you’re not Harry Potter sensing Voldemort, you’ve just got brain freeze.
Just like He Who Must Not Be Named, brain freeze boasts a number of aliases, including “cold stimulus headache” and “sphenopalatine neuralgia,” according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
In the article, Dr. Wojtek Mydlarz, assistant professor of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins Health Care and Surgery Center, describes the process as a substantial rapid temperature drop in the roof of your mouth, caused by cold food or liquid. Blood vessels in your palate constrict in an effort to preserve the body’s core temperature, then rapidly expand. In the words of Mydlarz, the rebound dilation “sends a pain signal to the brain through a nerve called the trigeminal nerve, whose upper branch extends into the midface and forehead,” which is the pain we feel when we’ve iced our cranium. So it’s not actually your brain that’s in pain – brains can’t actually feel anything – but rather the throbbing of your icy arteries.
Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center neuroscientist Dwayne Godwin adds “our mouths are highly vascularized, including the tongue — that’s why we take our temperatures there. But drinking a cold beverage fast doesn’t give the mouth time to absorb the cold very well… One thing the brain doesn’t like is for things to change, and brain freeze is a mechanism to prevent you from doing that.”
The easiest and most logical way to address brain freeze is to stop consuming the ice cold treat of your choice at such an alarming rate. Take it slow and no blood vessels get hurt. However, if you find yourself getting a little overzealous and feel the onset of a brain freeze, try either consuming something warmer or pressing your tongue to the roof of your mouth, which will help thaw out your palate and have you back on your feet in no time.
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