Bye Bye, Brain Freeze! Try These Expert-Backed Tips for Relief
Nothing ruins the first soft-serve of summer like a lightning bolt of pain shot through your frontal lobe: brain freeze! You probably fought the headaches more as an over-excited, slushy scarfing kid, but no one is immune to the sudden and intense (but thankfully, brief) sensation. Keep reading to learn what exactly a brain freeze is and how to find relief from one, fast.
What is a brain freeze?
The name is pretty descriptive of the feeling. A brain freeze is the sharp head pain that occurs when you eat or drink something cold, otherwise known as cold neuralgia or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, says Roger Seheult, M.D., medical advisor for Intrivo. The pain is typically felt most intensely in the forehead, temples, and behind the eyes or nose, he adds.
What causes a brain freeze?
A brain freeze happens when the roof of your mouth or throat is cooled too quickly, explains Heather Viola, D.O., primary care physician at Mount Sinai Doctors-Ansonia. “Blood vessels throughout the head expand to let extra blood into the area for warmth,” she adds, which the surrounding nerve endings and, therefore, the brain, perceive as a red flag. “This quick change in blood vessel size causes sudden pain. In addition to eating and drinking something cold, breathing cold air can trigger brain freeze,” Viola says.
Can a brain freeze be dangerous?
Although brain freezes don’t usually call for concern, Dr. Viola says that limited research has shown a link between brain freezes and migraine incidence. “Some studies have revealed that brain freeze is more common in people who experience migraines,” she adds. “If the frequency or intensity of your headaches change, make sure to contact your healthcare provider.”
Brain freeze pain can also feel similar to a condition called Tic douloureux or trigeminal neuralgia, says Dr. Seheult, which is characterized by a “stabbing sensation” that is prominent in one side of the face. “This is from inflammation of the trigeminal nerve and considered to be one of the most painful conditions to affect people,” he adds.
How do you treat brain freeze?
You’ve probably heard of the thumb-on-the-roof-of-the-mouth trick, and it’s totally legit. “Try to get the temperature of your mouth and throat back to normal,” suggests Dr. Viola. In other words, stop eating or drinking the cold culprit or retreat to the warm indoors. “Drink a warm or room-temperature liquid,” Viola continues. “Pressing your tongue or thumb against the roof of your mouth to transfer warmth can also be helpful. A brain freeze can be painful, but it’s not serious and goes away quickly on its own.”
To prevent a brain freeze from happening in the first place, Dr. Seheult advises taking slower sips or bites of whatever cold substance you’re consuming.
When to see a doctor about brain freeze
Both Dr. Seheult and Dr. Viola concur that a brain freeze doesn’t warrant medical attention and usually goes away within a few minutes. However, if the frequency or intensity of your headaches change or last longer than a few minutes, they both advise contacting your healthcare provider to rule out anything serious.
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