Dr. Rachel: What’s a brain freeze?

Dr. Rachel
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NEW ORLEANS (WGNO) – Dr. Rachel tells us what brain freeze actually is, and the best way to get rid of it!

Dr. Rachel received an email that read:

“Dr. Rachel, the other day my son was eating an ice cream cone and suddenly cried, “I have a headache, mommy.”
I knew it was brain freeze but I started wondering what causes brain freeze. And is it dangerous?”

Dr. Rachel tells us that the medical term for this headache is “sphenopalatine ganglion neuralgia,” but most of us call it an ice cream headache, cold headache, or brain freeze.

Many think brain freeze occurs due to something going on in the stomach but it actually all occurs completely in the head. When something really cold touches your upper palate and the back of your throat, the temperature stimulates an area in the brain where two major blood vessels meet. When those arteries get cold, they contract rapidly. The brain then signals other arteries to dilate so that extra blood warm the area.

All this contracting and dilating stimulates nerves in the outer covering of the brain to send out pain signals that travel through the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for all sensations in the face. The pain is then felt in the forehead, eyes, or the top of the head. This type of pain is called referred pain since the cause of the pain is not in the same place as the feeling of pain.

“Our brains are very sensitive to sudden changes in blood flow and brain freeze is a great example of what it does to protect itself. Interestingly, only about one-third of people get brain freeze and people who have migraines are more susceptible to getting it. The best way to alleviate the pain with brain freeze is to warm up the roof of your mouth with your tongue or putting something warm in your mouth. And the best way to prevent it is to eat cold things slowly, which is hard to do when it comes to delicious ice cream.”

If you have any medical questions, email DrRachel@wgno.com.

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