Skip to main content

What is Brain Freeze or Ice Cream Headache?

Brain Freeze is actually a mistake by your brain.
“Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia” sounds like a terrible disease, and, certainly, it can be painful. But for most of us, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia is a punishment worthy of the crime— the crime of eating ice cream. 

Sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia is the affliction better known as “brain freeze” or “ice cream headache,” the stinging sensation one feels at the top/front of the head after eating too much ice cream too quickly.

Many of us have experienced it— one study in the British Medical Journal (yes, there’s a study on ice cream headaches) suggests as many as one-third of the population has been so afflicted.

Why does it happen? The most common explanation suggests that, in a sense, brain freezes are caused by our brains malfunctioning. Your face has a nerve called the trigeminal nerve that contains three parts. One of the three parts carries sensory information from your forehead to your brain while another one does the same for the roof of your mouth. (The third one focuses on the lower mouth, but that’s not relevant to conversations about ice cream headaches.) 

Eating ice cream causes the blood vessels in your face to contract quickly and, when the ice cream leaves your mouth, those same blood vessels get warm and dilate, or expand. If you eat ice cream too quickly, the blood vessels expand rapidly, and that’s where the trigeminal nerve takes over. The part of the nerve in the roof of your mouth sends a signal to your brain, telling the brain that something’s wrong. The brain screws it up. 

This “mistake” is a phenomenon called “referred pain,” in which the brain misplaces the source of the sensation. It’s not very common, although it’s also seen in heart attacks, during which the brain incorrectly places the pain in the shoulder instead of the chest. In the case of brain freeze, instead of “understanding” the signal for what it is— a change in temperature in your mouth— your brain instead thinks that the signal is coming from the forehead. The brain reacts by turning that signal into a migraine-like headache, although a short-lived one, thankfully. 

Why this referred pain phenomenon occurs is unknown. But we do know that if you do not want to experience it, there’s an easy solution: Slow down when you’re eating a frosted treat.

Credit: Lewis, Dan. Now I Know: The Revealing Stories Behind the World's Most Interesting Facts (p. 198-199). F+W Media. Kindle Edition.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Marvels of the Science: Rocks and Things

My kids have a science test today. We've been studying rocks and minerals, erosion and weathering, and other science-y geology stuff all week.

All that work, and we just should have done in Internet search. After all, everything on the Internet is factual when it comes to science.

Here's a perfect example, a quick documentary that teaches us everything we know about rocks and 2 minutes and 43 seconds.

Stretch your brains!


The Least Scientific Nature Documentary Ever -- powered by Cracked.com

More Realistic Anniversary Gift Traditions

New Anniversary Gifts Destined to become Traditional My wife and I have been married for 20 years today. Over the past 20 years I made efforts each year to observe the traditional anniversary gifts. Some of them are certainly more difficult than others, and many of them are hard to find gift worthy in the modern age.
Therefore, I offer you a modern take on anniversary gifts. How many of these will become traditional?
First Anniversary – The Ramen Noodle anniversary. Let’s face it, you blew $30,000 on the wedding, and your student loan debt hasn’t gone anywhere. Share a Cup O’ Noodles. Eat with chopsticks on the floor because you can’t yet afford a couch.
Second Anniversary – The Puppy Anniversary. She’s been looking at you with those eyes that say she wants to start a family, but you just bought a new couch. Get her a puppy instead.
Third Anniversary – The Kinky Lingerie Anniversary. Leather, silk or lace can re-fire the engines after a year of flannel pajamas that smell like the puppy,…

Donald Trump Hates Freedom of the Press, But Why?

Donald J Trump is challenging the concept of free press. He has publicly ridiculed ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, MSNBC, and many other news organizations. Some have called out his twitter rants as being distinctly fascist.
This past week on Meet the Press, John McCain, a Republican member of the U.S. Senate, while not mentioning Donald Trump specifically, called suppression of the press "how dictators get started". Freedom of the Press in the Constitution
Freedom of the Press isn't a new concept. Our founding fathers put it into the original Bill of Rights. Even in the 1789 they realized that a free press was essential for maintaining checks and balances to the power of government.

The Press in Colonial America
Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison understood the power and value of the press. But what, exactly, was the press in pre-Constitution America? In colonial America around 1760 there were only 24 new…