The intense summer heat that makes you want to eat ice cream or drink a very cold iced drink can sometimes lead to a severe but fleeting headache known as a frozen brain or brain freeze.
No, the brain does not really freeze. It is simply a sensation that occurs when a cold substance is introduced into a stable body of heat. The medical term for the frozen brain is neuralgia of the sphenopalatine ganglion. This is a group of nerves that are sensitive to cold foods. And when stimulated, information is transmitted and the pain part of the brain gets activated. They are the same nerves responsible for the most common headaches and migraines.
Why Does the Brain Freeze?
Experts concur that this occurs when a cold substance touches the palate or the back of the throat, causing the blood vessels to dilate. The explanation is this: pain receptors, located near the vessels, detect discomfort and quickly send a message through the nerves to the brain. Since these nerves are responsible for transmitting the sensations of cold stimuli in the head, the brain considers them as coming from here.
The pain begins to be noticeable shortly after the palate comes into contact with something cold. It usually lasts a few seconds—and sometimes lengthens to minutes—before disappearing completely. This headache is harmless and is not related to neurological problems, but it is attached to migraines.
A frozen brain is harmless, but it has been discovered that people who easily present this type of headache are more likely to suffer from migraines. This means that these two types of headaches are connected because the nerves of the palate connect to both conditions.
Can You Fight It?
As we have mentioned, this type of a headache due to cold stimuli is temporary and not serious enough to deprive you of your daily activities. Therefore, the normal thing to do is to wait until it disappears on its own. However, if the pain is very intense and difficult to cope with, you can drink warm water. This will help mitigate the cold sensation of the palate, so the intensity and duration of pain will decrease.
You can also try to make pressure—with the tongue or with the tip of a finger—on the highest part of the palate, with the intention of heating the nerves in a function similar to that of warm water. The pain is more likely to disappear before you know it.
Obviously, the easiest way to avoid this phenomenon is to rule out the consumption of frozen foods and beverages. But, let’s be honest, in the summer this option is not ideal or realistic. However, to avoid this annoying headache, you can eat ice cream very slowly, especially at the beginning. So that the nerves of the palate get used to the cold. Therefore the results will not be as abrupt and painful on the nerves.