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What Causes a Brain Freeze?

A woman holds a glass of ice water and pinches at her nose.

In case you hadn’t noticed (but we bet you have), it’s hot outside. You’re probably reaching for tasty fruit slushes, milkshakes, or some hydrating ice water to stay cool. But with those cold drinks come brain freezes.

So when you’re sipping on your ice-cold beverage, what exactly causes a brain freeze, and is there a way to stop them when they happen?

The good news is that a brain freeze is nothing serious, and they’re pretty common. Technically, they’re known as sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, and the leading theory on why they happen involves your blood vessels reacting when your palate gets cold quickly.

Your blood vessels constrict upon the encounter with cold as a way for your body to conserve its core temperature. Then, after squeezing, they open back up quickly. It’s the rebound that sends the pain signal to your brain through the trigeminal nerve which runs through the middle of your face and forehead—hence why the pain can feel concentrated there.

Thankfully, these headaches are mostly short-lived, finishing within five minutes or less. Yes, there’s a way you can shorten the duration.

Johns Hopkins Medicine recommended removing the cold food or drink and pressing your tongue or thumb into the roof of your mouth. This will help warm your palate and allow the blood vessels to return to normal.

So the next time you are whipping up some homemade ice cream or celebrating with a frozen margarita, you should probably slow down just a bit and give your palate time to adjust to the cold.

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