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BOD-ities: What happens when you get a brain freeze?

Lankenau Medical Center July 12, 2019 BOD-ities By Lucas Z. Margolies, MD

We’ve all been there before…you take the first bite of a popsicle or an ice cream cone only to be momentarily sidelined by a brief, intense headache. It’s affectionately called ‘ice cream headache’ and its technical term is ‘sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia’ but you probably know it best as: brain freeze.

A brain freeze headache happens as a result of a temperature change in your throat. Two arteries that connect to the brain—the internal carotid artery and the anterior cerebral artery—are both located near the back of your throat. When a sudden cold hits this area, it causes these arteries to dilate and contract. Even though your brain can’t literally feel pain, it reads this sensation as pain and responds accordingly with a sharp, intense and sometimes stabbing pain that mimics a headache.

This pain is usually brief, lasting only a minute or two. But if you have a history of migraines or headaches, you may be more susceptible to brain freeze or your symptoms may linger a bit longer.

We all know that brain freeze isn’t dangerous, but it’s definitely uncomfortable. For quick relief, you can try a few ways to warm yourself up:

  • Take a drink of warm water
  • Press your tongue to the roof of your mouth
  • Cover your mouth and nose with your hands and breathe (Like you might do during chillier weather)

You can prevent brain freeze, too, by taking small bites of frozen or extremely cold food.

While brain freeze can happen, its symptoms typically disappear quickly. If you find yourself regularly sidelined by headaches after a meal or in your daily life, talk to a health care provider about your symptoms. They may refer you to a neurologist who specializes in the treatment of headaches and can help you identify triggers and treatment options

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.