My cravings for milkshakes and fro-yo seem to be increasing in direct relation to how long the sun is starting to stay out for. I can’t be the only one, and I also can’t be the only one wondering what brain freeze is or why it happens. You know the tricks to make it pass -- thumb pressed to the roof of your mouth, etc. -- but what is going on in your noggin (is it even happening in your brain?) in the first place?
Some people don’t even get brain freeze at all, to which I say: Who are you and who blessed you with this gift?
As a result, no one entirely knows what brain freeze is. We’ve been aware of it since the 1800s, but not everyone agrees on the specific cause or exactly what’s going on to make you screw your eyes up in freezing pain when all you’re trying to do is enjoy a sweet treat.
It happens when you eat or drink something cold too fast because your mouth is too slow to adjust accordingly to the drastic change in temperature. Pretty basic.
The leading theory is that the trigeminal nerve, the one in charge of sensations felt around your head, is triggered by extra-cold substances coming in contact with the roof of your mouth or back of your throat. You freeze the nerve, you freeze your head. When the nerve is triggered, the blood vessels in your brain widen because they’re sending a flood of blood to the cold area to “fix” it. This quick, intense rush of blood actually ends up increasing the pressure in your head and causing brief, light pain. Once the cold goes away, the vessels return to their normal size, and you feel better.
Also, no, it’s not your actual brain that’s hurting -- your brain can’t feel pain at all, actually. It’s the receptors in the outer covering of the brain (called the meninges) that feel the pain and give you a headache.
This sounds like as good a theory as any, but every person has this nerve, so it doesn’t explain why some people don’t experience brain freeze at all. The stats range across all types of demographics, from age to geography.
Will this information make us stop eating ice cream so fast? Probably not, but at least you can curse your trigeminal nerve directly next time it happens.