Snow cones, popsicles, scoops of mint chocolate chip—there’s nothing like a chilled treat to combat the dog days of summer. But watch out, or disaster may strike. Brain freeze!
Why does brain freeze have to spoil the fun? Just as you’re slurping down a cherry slushie, you get a piercing headache. Ouch! Today’s Moment of Science confronts this summertime annoyance, head on.
Your mouth, especially the roof and the back of the throat, is very sensitive, full of nerves and blood vessels. When you gobble up that tasty brownie sundae, you rapidly change the temperature of your mouth and throat, and contract nearby blood vessels. As the nerves sense the sudden cold, those blood vessels then quickly expand, attempting to bring in extra blood and so warm up your head again. But the blood vessels don’t just affect your mouth—they also feed blood to your face and forehead. And when the blood vessels expand very quickly, this change causes a headache from pain signals traveling to the brain from a nearby nerve.Chowing down on a lemon ice pop isn’t inherently dangerous. And neither are brain freezes themselves. They’re simply the result of sudden change, which our bodies often don’t like. Further good news is that while brain freeze comes on quickly, it also disappears quickly—just stop eating your cold dessert, and your mouth’s nerves and blood vessels will soon warm up. Some scientists suggest putting your tongue to the roof of your mouth, or drinking a room-temperature beverage, to end the headache. Patience helps, too—eat your ice cream slowly, and you can probably avoid that pesky brain freeze.