What can happen when you drink something cold too fast, or eat ice-cream? The scientific term is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, but the simpler term is brain freeze. It’s your body’s way of telling you to slow down and take it easy with the icy drink or ice cream.
Dwayne Godwin, Ph.D., of Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center explains how it works. “Brain freeze is really a type of headache that is rapid in onset, but rapidly resolved as well. 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.” When you sip a really cold soda, or eat ice cream too fast you are changing the temperature in the back of the throat at the point where two arteries meet. Godwin says that the pain felt by brain freeze is sensed by receptors in the outer covering of the brain called the meninges, where the two arteries meet. When the cold hits, it causes a dilation and contraction of these arteries, and that’s the sensation that the brain is interpreting as pain. “We can’t easily give people migraines or a cluster headache, but we can easily induce brain freeze without any long-term problems. We can learn something about headache mechanisms and extend that to our understanding to develop better treatments for patients,” says Godwin.
A cure for brain freeze is easy – stop drinking the cold drink. You can also put your tongue up to the roof of your mouth because it’s warm or drink something tepid to normalize the temperature in your mouth.
Several years ago Dr. Robbins and a colleague he knew named Dr. Baskin had talked about writing a brain freeze (or ice-cream headache) article together – it never happened, but was a cute idea! Science Daily 8/6/13