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How Does Brain Freeze Work?

How Does Brain Freeze Work?

Jul. 15th, 2020

You take a bite of your creamy, delicious ice cream as you sit in the warm sun. It melts on your tongue, so you take another bite. Then another.

However, you end up eating your ice cream too quickly, and you soon find yourself having an ice cream headache. Your head feels dizzy, and you’re having a hard time feeling your tongue.

Brain freeze happens to everyone, but what’s the science behind it? Here’s why you get brain freeze headaches whenever you quickly eat ice cream, popsicles, slushies, and cold drinks.

What is Brain Freeze

A brain freeze headache is when your head hurts after eating cold food too quickly. It occurs when the top of your mouth (also known as the upper palette) is exposed to cold food.

Brain freeze is most commonly referred to as an “ice cream headache” or “cold stimulus headache.” The medical term for a brain freeze headache is “sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.”

The science behind brain freeze

Believe it or not, scientists aren’t 100% certain what causes brain freeze; however, because so many people experience these ice cream headaches, it’s been a topic of discussion in the medical community.

According to Medical News Today, scientists believe brain freeze headaches are caused by the rapid constriction of blood vessels in the palette. This happens because your capillaries, which are branches of blood vessels, are narrowed when exposed to colder foods.

When your capillaries narrow, the amount of blood flowing to your brain changes, thus causing a headache. That means your brain freeze headache is a result of the change in blood flow.

When your palette is warmed, you stop having a brain freeze headache because your capillaries expand. It’s believed that the fast-paced changes cause your blood vessels to widen and your nerves to react.

How to Lessen Brain Freeze

No one likes the feeling of a brain freeze headache, but some people are more prone to them. For example, if you have migraines, you’re more likely to experience brain freeze. This is because they both occur in the same spot on the head.

If you end up with brain freeze, warming the palette will cause the headache to go away faster. Some ways you can do this are:

  • Drink warm water. This will remove the cold feeling from your mouth and replace it with warmth.
  • Remove the cold food. Don’t keep eating your ice cream or drinking your slushy – remove it so your palette can be exposed to warm air.
  • Press your thumb or tip of your finger against the roof of your mouth. This can help draw heat to your pallet and alleviate the cold feeling.

Should you worry about brain freeze?

Because brain freeze headaches usually last only five minutes, they usually aren’t a cause for concern. Most people recover fairly quickly and then go back to eating their delicious, cold ice cream.

However, if your head hurts for a prolonged period after eating something cold, consult a doctor.

Saber Healthcare Support Personal Care

Here at Saber Healthcare, we understand how important it is to maintain a happy lifestyle – especially if that includes enjoying ice cream. We offer personal care services to keep our residents comfortable and safe.

If you or a loved one needs personal care services, check out what we offer.

Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.


1. Nordqvist, Joseph. "Why does ice cream cause brain freeze?" Healthline Media, Medical News Today. March 30th, 2017. Accessed July 15th, 2020.

2. "How to Ease Brain Freeze." The Johns Hopkins University, Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed July 15th, 2020.