Brain freeze is your brain's way of warning you that the blood flowing to your brain is way too cold
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When you drink a cold drink, you cool the blood that flows through the internal carotid artery that flows to your brain just behind your mouth and throat.
Brain Freeze is an alarm that your brain triggers to let you know that the blood flowing into your brain is getting too cold.
Even though the brain freezes is painful, it usually disappears within 30 seconds or less.
This article has been medically reviewed by Clifford Segil, DO, a neurologist at Providence Saint Johns Health Center in Santa Monica, CA.
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Eating or drinking something cold too quickly can lead to splitting, short-lived headaches. This sudden phenomenon, technically known as sphenopalatin ganglioneuralgia, is more commonly known as brain frost or ice cream headache.
It can be very uncomfortable, but luckily it is harmless. Here's the science behind brain freezing and why it happens.
Freezing the brain only takes 30 seconds or less.
What Causes Brain Freeze?
The consumption of cold food or drinks cools the roof of the mouth and throat. Right behind these areas is a main artery that supplies blood to the brain. This is called the internal carotid artery. This means that eating cold things actually cools the blood flowing to and from your brain, says Dr. Greg McLauchlin, assistant professor of neurology at Baylor College of Medicine.
When the blood flowing to your brain becomes too cold, your brain triggers an alarm that causes the headache called brain frost. This alarm warns you to stop or slow down the consumption of cold food or drinks so that the temperature of the brain remains regulated.
This is why a brain freeze headache can hurt so much: "Your brain needs to send a signal you can't ignore. It can't be tickling. It can't be itchy. It must be something that makes you go." Stopping brings, "says McLauchlin.
In fact, freezing the brain activates the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for extreme pain. And if you had this sudden, acute feeling of brain freezing, you know that the pain cannot be ignored.
If you haven't stopped, "The blood vessels that contain the cold blood can be narrowed so that they don't make up as much of the circulation. As a last resort, you pass out and drop the ice cream cone. Don't let this happen" says McLauchlin. However, the likelihood that this worst-case scenario will occur is very unlikely.
How long does the brain last and how is it treated?
Unlike migraines and other types of headaches, pain when the brain freezes usually disappears within 30 seconds or less, says McLauchlin. But it can take up to a few minutes.
The way to "treat" brain freezing is to stop or slow down the consumption of what triggers the pain.
"It only takes that long for the blood to warm up again. The faster the blood warms up, the shorter it takes," says McLauchlin.
If you want it to go away even faster, you can have a warm drink if you have one on hand.
As soon as the brain freezes, you can start enjoying your food or drink again - this time more slowly.
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