Brain Freeze: How And Why This Happens When We Eat Something Cold

Here is the reason why you experience brain freeze

Brain freeze, scientifically known as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, happens when there is a rapid change in blood flow to the brain’s vessels when exposed to cold substances.

The sensation originates from the tiny muscles around the blood vessels in the palate tightening and relaxing but the pain is experienced in the head, based on the article in The Healthy. The bursts of pain can be sharp but they are not harmful and would just last for a short time.

It typically lasts less than five minutes in 98 percent of cases. For some people, it is just for a few seconds. The pain can vary depending on how long the palate is exposed to the cold and the sensitivity of a person to temperature changes.

brain freeze
BBC Science Focus

What are the reasons why we get brain freeze? Wojtek Mydlarz, MD, an assistant professor of otolaryngology-head and neck surgery at Johns Hopkins, said that this is the survival reflex of the body. The blood vessels automatically constrict to help maintain the core temperature of the body.

Based on studies, people with migraine are prone to have brain freeze pain when eating something cold. Here are the reasons behind the increased susceptibility.

  • Reactive blood vessels: People with migraine often have blood vessels that react more intensely or quickly to stimuli.
  • Sensitive trigeminal nerve: People with migraine have a heightened sensitivity in the trigeminal nerve.
  • Lower pain threshold: The neural pathways that transmit pain in migraine sufferers tend to be more easily activated. It means that they can experience pain from stimuli that might not affect others as severely.

Some people do not experience these sudden bursts of pain at all because they have anatomical differences in their palate. This makes them less susceptible to this painful reaction. The speed at which they consume cold foods and drinks can also be a factor.

One way of avoiding this is to press your tongue against the roof of your mouth to warm it up. You could also sip something warm to counter the cold effect. It is also advisable to use a smaller straw when drinking or drinking slowly to minimize the possibility of having a brain freeze.

If you want to take a break from the cold, you can enjoy a hot cup of black coffee.

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