There is nothing more satisfying than an ice-cold drink or a delicious ice cream on a hot summer’s day, but many of us have been victims of an 'ice cream headache', scientific name sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, which is more commonly known as 'brain freeze'.
For those unaware of the exact sensation of the brain freeze, it can be described as a sharp shooting pain in the front and sides of the head, sometimes accompanied by sensitivity in teeth and a numbing of the throat and palate (roof of the mouth). Luckily this pain lasts for a short duration of around 20 seconds.
Approximately 40% of us seem to be affected by this ice cream punishment however, some studies have found that individuals prone to migraines are also more likely to experience brain freeze, suggesting similarities between how these two types of headaches work. The actual sensation of brain freeze is also reported to be similar to that of a migraine, but unlike brain freeze that lasts just seconds, a migraine can last for hours at a time.
You might be wondering why this happens. It's obvious that the brain doesn't literally freeze when we swallow something extremely cold, but the reason behind this painful 'STOP' sign isn't too mysterious. Thermoregulation (the maintenance of a stable core body temperature), especially of the brain is vital as even a small change in temperature can affect bodily processes and functions. So there's no doubt that our bodies have developed a system to stop us potentially causing lasting damage for the sake of a 99p cone.
A study presented at the APS Experimental Biology convention in 2012 proposed a theory on why exactly some of us experience head pain when our palates or oropharynx (back of the throat) come into contact with a cold stimulus. This study suggests that changes occur to cerebral blood flow due to stimulation of the sphenopalatine ganglion at the palate.
Dr Jorge Serrador of Harvard medical School explained the findings of the study, where it was observed that arterial blood flow in the brain increased when patients experienced headaches induced by cold water when sipped through a straw pressed against the roof of their mouth. This sudden increase in blood flow, particularly caused by the dilation of the anterior cerebral artery found in the middle of the brain could be the reason why pain is felt. The increased blood flow caused an increase in pressure surrounding the brain. He adds that the headaches basically disappeared as vasoconstriction (narrowing) of this artery took place suggesting that the subsequent decrease in blood flow related to the pain stopping.
So, is there a way to stop brain freeze? Well, it has been suggested that eating or drinking something warm or even just holding your tongue to the roof of your mouth can work in stopping the headache. These methods would work in the same way – by decreasing the temperature of your palate or throat which will stop nerve stimulation. To avoid it altogether it's best to keep anything too cold away from these areas.
In conclusion it can be said that brain freeze is the signal from your body telling you to slow down when you're consuming your chilled assailant of choice. Although short-lived, the pain caused has been compared with that of a severe migraine. So if you are affected by this icy affliction it's up to you to decide if that Oreo ice cream milkshake and the possibility of sugary regret is worth it this summer.