It’s the hottest day of the year, and you decide an ice cream cone would hit the spot. The first bite is a big one, and then the pain sets in. You have an ice cream headache and immediately try to figure out how to stop brain freeze.
Brain freeze, or ice cream headaches, are as much a part of summer as baseball and backyard barbecues. The phenomenon occurs when you eat something very cold, very fast. It comes on quickly, lasts only a few seconds, but feels like it goes on forever.
So, let’s take a look at what causes ice cream headaches and how to stop brain freeze.
What Causes Brain Freeze?
Although you feel the pain of a brain freeze in your head, it actually starts at the back of the roof of your mouth. There is a hard palate region and a soft palate region back there. There are also some blood vessels that come down beside the teeth. Your mouth and tongue are actually highly vascularized—meaning they have lots of blood vessels.
When something cold touches the blood vessels at the back of your mouth, they contract. But it’s not that contraction from the cold that causes your discomfort. It’s what happens when they start to warm up that brings about the brain freeze.
That sudden rush of blood brings about a “mini-migraine.” Wake Forest University researcher Dwayne Godwin says that despite its millions of neurons, the brain can't actually feel pain. He says the pain associated with brain freeze is sensed by receptors in the outer covering of the brain called the meninges, where the two arteries meet.
How to Prevent Brain Freeze
The good news is there are some things you can try to stop brain freeze. You can also do some things to keep it from happening in the first place. They include:
- Eating or drinking slowly.
- Take smaller bites and letting your ice cream sit on your tongue for a few seconds to warm up before swallowing.
- Try eating whipped cream with your ice cream. It works well as a buffer.
If you already have an ice cream headache, here’s how you can stop brain freeze in its tracks. Try things like:
- Putting your tongue over the roof of your mouth to warm up the area.
- You can also press your thumb on the roof of your mouth for the same effect.
- Sip water or another liquid that is warmer than what caused your brain freeze in the first place.
- Tilt your head back for about 10 seconds to slow the flow of blood to your brain.
- Make a mask with your hands over your mouth and nose, then breathe quickly. This will generate warmth.
If you’re trying to figure how to stop brain freeze altogether, the answer is simple: don’t eat ice cream or very cold drinks. Since we know that is practically impossible to do, just keep these tips handy the next time you feel an ice cream headache coming on. Another thing you can do is to download our “Summer Survival Guide.” You’ll find even more tips to make this summer enjoyable, including ways to avoid heat-related illnesses.