Ouch! Ice Cream Hurts My Brain

by Jo-Ann Heslin, MA, RD, CDN on February 11, 2016 · 37 comments

Commonly called a brain freeze, this is actually a type of headache that occurs rapidly but resolves quickly, as well. The correct scientific term is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. It happens when you eat ice cream too fast or drink very cold beverages quickly. Swallowing the cold food or beverage rapidly changes the temperature at the back of the throat, an area that feeds blood to the brain.

Though the brain can’t actually feel pain, a brain freeze is sensed by receptors in the outer covering of the brain called the meninges, where two arteries meet. The cold causes both a contraction and dilation of these arteries which the brain interprets as pain. The pain stops quickly when you simply stop eating the ice cream or slurping the very cold drink.

Why do researchers care about a brain freeze? Inducing a brain freeze in subjects can help them learn about other types of headaches. It is hard to cause a cluster headache or migraine but a brain freeze is easily induced, short lived, and causes no long-term health problems.

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