It’s hot outside.

I could spend all day answering your fabulous emails so keep them coming. 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?

Great question. The medical term for this headache is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, but most of us call it an ice cream headache, cold headache, or brain freeze.

A lot of people think it occurs due to their stomachs but your stomach has nothing to do with it. It all occurs in your head.

When something really cold touches your upper palate, which is the roof of your mouth, and the back of your throat, the cold temperature stimulates an area in your brain where two major blood vessels meet.
When those arteries get cold, they contract rapidly.

The brain signals other arteries to dilate or expand to get extra blood to that area to warm them up.
All this contracting and dilating, stimulates nerves in the outer covering of the brain to send out pain signals that travel through the big nerve in your head called the trigeminal nerve, which is responsible for all sensations in your face.

The pain is then felt in your forehead, behind your eyes, or the top of your head.

Bam, you get a sudden headache. This is called referred pain since the cause of the pain is in a different location from where you feel it.

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 of brain freeze is to warm up the roof of your mouth with your tongue or put 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 me at drrachel@wgno.com.

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