We've all experienced that excruciating sensation after digging into a tub of ice cream or guzzling an ice cold can of Coke—a sharp, pinpointed headache that lasts for a min-numbing minute and then rapidly disappears. Known as brain freeze, this unpleasant sensation is felt by children and adults alike. Up until a few years ago, the research on brain freeze was rather hazy, and it's only recently that researchers have discovered more about this phenomenon. Here's a rundown of what causes brain freeze, and how to get rid of it fast.

What Causes Brain Freeze?

Karan Kapoor

Harvard Health Publishing defines these ice cream headaches as cold-stimulus headaches that people get when they consume a cold beverage or food item too quickly. The pain occurs usually in the forehead or both temples and is known to last for less than five minutes. Cold-stimulus headaches are surprisingly quite common, and occur in 30%-40% of people who don’t usually suffer from headaches

However, the question still remains: what causes brain freeze? In a study published by the American Physiological Society, researchers from Harvard Medical School, the National University of Ireland Galway, and the Department of Veterans Affairs New Jersey Health Care Systems found that a brain freeze is linked to a surge of blood into the brain. This study claims that a brain freeze is the body’s attempt to warm itself (since it's programmed to protect itself from extremely cold temperatures). This response causes pressure to build inside the skull, which then results in the well known bout of agonizing pain. As soon as the artery carrying blood to the brain constricts, the pain subsides.

Other research suggests that a brain freeze is caused by the arteries in the back of your mouth contracting in response to cold foods. Your brain interprets this as pain, thus causing a brain freeze. The jury's still out on exactly what causes brain freeze, but cold foods are definitely the culprit. 

How to Prevent Brain Freeze

Karan Kapoor

Preventing a brain freeze is actually quite simple—just eat or drink a cold item slowly to allow your mouth to warm up the food first. However, if you start to feel the first signs of a brain freeze, it's unclear what the best method of staving off the headache is. Most people agree that curling your tongue up to press against the roof of your mouth stops a brain freeze. It's thought that this gives your mouth the chance to restore itself to a normal temperature. 

Are Brain Freezes Bad for You?

Transparent skull model photo by jesse orrico (@jessedo81) on Unsplash

Unsplash on unsplash

These short-lived ice cream headaches don't seem to be a real threat to your health (phew!). Once the brain warms back up, it picks up from the same place it left off. The only catch is that brain freeze occurs more commonly in people who suffer from migraines, so sip carefully if you fall into this category. 

If you can bear that short-lived, agonizing bout of chilling pain, I say slurp away. Just remember to eat your cold treats slowly to give your mouth time to warm up the food before you swallow. And if a brain freeze still happens, just relax and wait for it to end.