causes brain freeze?
One minute you are enjoying your favorite ice
cream, and the next minute, you have an excruciating headache that seems
to come from the middle of your skull. This horrible experience is known
as brain freeze. The pain is similar to that of a migraine headache, but
most attacks of brain freeze only last about 30 seconds or less.
Scientists think brain freeze is caused by a
combination of your body’s over reaction to the cold “freezing” of a
bundle of nerves above the palate, and a sudden surge of warm blood to
the brain. The initial contact of the ice cream and the roof of your
mouth is what causes the brain freeze to begin.
When you took a big bite of ice cream, some of it
touched the roof of your mouth. Behind the hard palate is a cluster of
nerves that act as a protective thermostat for your brain. The main
nerve in this bundle is extremely sensitive to abrupt changes in
temperature. When the ice cream cools down the main nerve, the nerves
send a warning signal to the other nerves in the bundle. The nerve
bundle then “tells” your brain to get ready for a major freeze.
Your brain and the nerves don’t actually freeze
during brain freeze. The nerves over reacted to the cold and confused
the ice cream for hypothermia. The blood vessels surrounding the brain
suddenly shrink in response to the cold to retain heat. The result is a
pounding headache. The pain is not due to the vessels constricting, but
by warm blood flooding back into the constricted vessels. A similar, but
painless, blood vessel response is what makes you have red cheeks on a
While the blood vessels are busy shrinking and
reopening with warm blood, the nerves are also contributing to the pain
of brain freeze. The pain receptor near the nerve cluster sense the
freezing of the palate, but the pain itself is moved to an area deeper
in the brain. This is why you feel brain freeze deep inside your head
and not in the roof of the mouth.
One way you can relieve the pain is to press your
tongue against the roof of your mouth to warm the area up.