What causes brain freeze? | Discover the magazine

Nothing ruins a summer day like the pain of eagerly slurping a cold milkshake. The paralyzing feeling of frost – experienced by about a third of the population – is a cold irritation headache, more commonly known as ice cream headache or brain freeze.

“It occurs when a cold stimulus is applied to the top of the mouth or the back of the throat,” said Mark Green, president of the World Headache Society and a member of the Leadership Council of the Professional National Headache Foundation. “Then the pain begins in the temples or the forehead region [of the head]. “

Green notes that, despite its name, the cold sensation can be caused by any cold stimulus, even ice water. However, he adds that “the cold needs to be applied extensively in this location, so ice water is more likely to trigger this than an ice cube”. The speed of ingestion also plays a role. For example a 2002 to learn found that eating ice cream in less than 5 seconds doubled the chance of brain freezing compared to those who ate the same amount in 30 seconds.

And this phenomenon is not limited to eating and drinking. “It has actually been reported in skiers and ice-skaters,” says Green, suggesting that cold air can also cause brain freezing. So how exactly does a joyful icy experience become so painfully painful?

A moment on the lips

The brain freezing typically starts in the mouth, where the blood vessels rapidly recognize and react to the extreme temperature fluctuations that heaped spoons of ice cream can bring with it. The palate, also called the palate, is due to it extensive Vessel cover.

But also blood vessels beyond the mouth answers Cold sensations through constriction or constriction in order to protect the core body temperature from extreme changes. This restricts blood flow from non-essential parts of the body such as the skin and extremities to protect more important internal organs. The vessels typically reopen periodically to allow brief puffs of blood back into the tissue to warm it up.

This vascular plasticity is why your face gets reddened in the snow (and why some people encounter unwanted shrinkage in a cold pool). Like these protective mechanisms throughout the body, the blood vessels in the palate also act quickly contract and expand while taking a cold.

Pain in the diaphragm

Despite the term “brain freeze”, the brain itself does not go cold. Instead, the changes in blood vessels in the mouth caused by the cold affect the flow of blood to the brain. One recently to learn found that swallowing ice cold, but not lukewarm, water quickly increased blood flow through one of the brain’s main arteries. Interestingly, these changes in blood flow were more pronounced in those who did, although not all study participants experienced headaches from freezing the brain.

What makes these brain vascular changes so uniquely painful? Teshamae Monteith, Associate Professor of Clinical Neurology and Head of the Headache Department at the University of Miami’s Miller School of Medicine, provides some insight

“The mechanism is not fully understood,” she says, “but some studies suggest that sudden cold intake can lead to rapid narrowing of the brain [brain] Vessels that activate the pain receptors in the vascular wall. “

These vascular changes caused by ice cream are likely to relieve pain from the Trigeminal nervethat surrounds the large blood vessels in the brain. This nerve is also responsible for pass on sensory information, including pain, from the face, mouth, and nasal cavities. Since few people experience a brain freeze while ingesting a cold, some scientists believe that the trigeminal nerve could be more susceptible with these people.

In addition to freezing the brain, similar interactions between the large blood vessels in the brain and the trigeminal nerve can cause other, more severe types of headaches. “People with brain freeze are more likely Having migraines, ”says Monteith. In addition, it seems that the pain associated with freezing the brain is even greater intensive in those who have regular migraines.

Thaw the brain

Wondering how to make this arctic pain go away? One way is to just wait for the pain that usually continues 30 seconds or less and is ultimately harmless. But seconds can feel like hours when that icy feeling kicks in, so Green suggests that the best way to combat brain freezing is to prevent it.

As with other types of headache is a study Published in Cephalalgia Reports found last year that taking an anti-inflammatory drug before exposure to the cold can successfully prevent the brain from freezing. However, since everyone is unlikely to want to swallow a pill before diving into an ice cream cone, there are more practical solutions.

Since rapid changes in the blood vessels in the palate trigger this pain, Green recommends “if you have this problem” [while] Whenever you eat ice and drink cold liquids, slow down “and try to keep it away from the back of your throat.” He also notes that drinking a warm beverage can shorten the duration if you have a seizure. Squeeze your warm Thumb against the roof of the mouth is also worth a try.

As hard as it is to resist inhaling this 32-ounce slurpee in record time, your trigeminovascular system would probably appreciate it.

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