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Ouch! That Ice Cream Cup Gave Me a Brain Freeze!


Ice cream

Ice cream is one of the most popular deserts in the United States. About 40% of all Americans will eat ice cream in any two week period, according to research by the NPD Group. The country produces about 1.5 billion gallons of ice cream and other, similar desserts, such as gelato and frozen yogurt, every year. In any given year, the average person in the United States will eat ice cream 28.5 times. That is a lot of ice cream and a lot of ice cream cups.

Despite all of it deliciousness, consuming ice cream cups can have adverse effects on people. Perhaps you have experienced the dreaded “brain freeze.” You know, the headache you get when you eat something that is too cold. What causes it exactly? How do you make it go away?

When you put something that is very cold in your mouth and try to eat it very rapidly, maybe you are throwing down some ice cream cups or having a really cold drink, the palate of your mouth cools very quickly. At the back of the roof of your mouth, there is a big nerve center. The nerve clusters in that nerve center send messages to your brain when there are changes to your body’s temperature. When you eat or drink something very cold, the temperature of these nerve clusters in that nerve center drops by enough to overstimulated. They think the entire body has just lost too much heat. They practically are screaming at your brain that it needs to know this is happening. They think you are under an attack of some sort or are in danger of freezing to death. As a result, the blood vessels in your head constrict to protect the brain from freezing, too.

Then, of course, the temperature in your mouth goes back to normal and your nerve clusters tell the brain it was just a false alarm. “Move along, there’s nothing to see here,” they say. Your blood vessels go back to their normal size and your headache goes away. Then you take another bite from the delicious but cold ice cream cups and the whole process begins anew. You probably knew that would happen but the ice cream is just that tasty. The pain can often be pretty intense and many people even feel it in their face.

These headaches have a serious name. In medical circles they are called “phenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.” This is a fancy, medical name for nerve pain in the sphenopalatine ganglion.

The pain can pulsate and some people have made the connection that the brain freeze headache produces a similar feeling to the migraine headache. Some migraine sufferers say that their headaches can be triggered by eating or drinking something that is too cold.

You should only experience the ice cream headache or brain freeze for about ten to 30 seconds but there are ways to make it go away faster. Simply press your tongue to the top of your mouth. That gets the temperature of the roof of your mouth back to normal quicker so your brain can quit freaking out about freezing to death quicker. One person was reported to have suffered from a brain freeze headache for a full five minutes. That tip would have helped them.

Of course there are ways to prevent getting the brain freeze headache to begin with. For starters, you can slow down a bit when eating cold foods like ice cream cups. They are delicious, make that flavor last longer by not scarfing it down so fast. You can let the ice cream warm up a bit before you eat it or while it is in your mouth. If you hold it in your mouth a few seconds before you swallow it, you may avoid the dreaded ice cream headache. Lastly, only eat ice cream in cold climates. If you are already very cold, the ice cream will not change the temperature of the roof of your mouth and the brain freeze headache will be impossible.

At the end of the day, ice cream is great. It is so worth the brain freeze headache.


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