Dealing With Brain Freeze What is Brain Freeze? You’re enjoying your favorite ice cream cone or frozen drink, and suddenly you’re experiencing an excruciating headache which seems to originate from the middle of your skull. This is the phenomenon known as “brain freeze,” or ice cream headache. I get brain freeze almost anytime I eat ice cream, or extremely cold drinks and in addition to the headache pain I also get excruciating pain half way down the middle of my back. The headache usually appears in around 10 seconds and lasts about 30 seconds although I am told that some people experience much longer periods of pain. The pain seems to relate to the same side of the head that the cold substance was applied to the palate, or to both sides of the head in the case of swallowing.
What causes brain freeze? Ice cream headaches” result from quickly eating or drinking very cold substances. It is commonly experienced when applying ice-cream or very cold drinks to the roof of the mouth. The effect relies upon the temperature of the food being consumed rather than that of the environment. This means that it is possible to suffer from an ice-cream headache in both hot and cold weather conditions. It is thought that this sudden cold causes increased blood flow to the brain through the anterior cerebral artery, which supplies oxygenated blood to most medial portions of the frontal lobes and superior medial parietal lobes. This increase in blood volume and resulting increase in size in this artery is thought to bring on the pain associated with an ice-cream headache. This inflow of blood can’t be cleared as quickly as it is coming in during the ice-cream headache, so the blood flow could raise the pressure inside the skull and induce pain that way. As the intra-cranial pressure and temperature in the brain increase the blood vessel contracts, and the pressure in the brain is reduced before reaching dangerous levels. The dilation, then quick constriction, of this blood vessel may be a type of self-defence for the brain. As soon as the anterior cerebral artery constricts, reining in the response to this increased blood volume, the pain disappears. It is possible to avoid brain freeze by eating or drinking slowly at first so that the palate can become accustomed to to the cold temperature. To relieve the pain, doctors often suggest pressing the tongue against the roof of the mouth to warm the area or tilting the head back for about ten seconds. Relief can also be achieved by drinking a liquid that has a higher temperature than the substance that caused the ice cream headache.
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