Forget art. Put your trust in ice cream. ~ Charles Baxter


I know every one of my readers has experienced the joy of eating ice cream only to be suddenly hit with a brain freeze, mind-numbing headache. Am I right?  Well, let's look at what causes brain freeze and what you can do to make it go away.

Summertime and ice cream are synonymous and both have been enjoyed since 200 B.C. Throughout the history of all countries, ice cream, gelato, sorbet, frozen custard, or frozen yoghurt has been there making summertime delightful. I know your childhood summertimes are filled with ice cream memories, and some of those have to include brain freezes.

Brain freeze is sometimes called an ice cream headache. They are intense at the moment, but the relief is we learn that they pass quickly, which makes them a bit more tolerable.

Wikipedia defined brain freeze scientifically as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, meaning "nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion." It’s caused when the ice cream touches the roof of your mouth causing the nerves there to expand and contract. This happens more frequently when you eat the ice cream too quickly. The medical reaction causing the pain is very similar to migraine headache pain.

The cold substance touches the palate (roof) of the mouth. The capillaries inside the palate become frozen, which triggers the blood vessels to constrict in an attempt to maintain bodily heat. Once you swallow the ice cream, the palate starts to warm up again, which causes the blood vessels to expand. If this expansion/contraction occurs repeatedly in rapid succession, pain receptors are released and this is what causes brain freeze pain, because the pain response is carried to the brain along the trigeminal nerve.  This nerve’s key job is detecting facial pain, so the brain thinks the pain is coming from the forehead instead of the mouth. Brain freeze!

Brain freeze occurs when we drink cold food, cold drinks, but mainly it occurs when we eat ice cream.

Avoiding Brain Freeze Headaches

None of us would ever stop enjoying cold foods or drinks, so here are some ideas to avoid brain freeze.

  • When you switch from eating hot to eating cold foods, do it slowly, because switching too quickly between hot and cold is what causes brain freeze.
  • Allow the hot or cold food to sit on your tongue for a bit so you won’t shock your palate.
  • Think about enjoyment while you revel in the taste of the food so that you don’t bolt it down too quickly.
  • If you feel a brain freeze coming on, roll the underneath part of your tongue up on to the roof of your mouth to warm it.
  • Some have said pressing the roof of the mouth with your thumb will help warm it.
  • You might do nothing, knowing it will pass quickly, as it generally does.
  • You could drink something warm.


Frozen desserts like ice cream, frozen custard or yoghurt, sorbet or gelato are so delightful that in our hurry to swallow causes temporarily painful results.  We won’t be giving them up, but we might be well-served to add a bit of patience as an accompaniment.

Ice cream is happiness condensed.  ~ Jessi Lane Adams

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