A few years back, the internet pointed and laughed when a young baseball fan got a brain freeze after slamming a slushee. And while we’re far too mature to laugh at such a thing (okay, we laughed too — sorry, kid), we did aim to find the source of his pain and show the world how to avoid it.
Brain freeze works like this: When you chug an icy cold beverage or shovel ice cream into your mouth, you’re very quickly changing the temperature in the back of your throat. Or slightly more scientifically, you’re putting the intersection of the internal carotid artery (which feeds blood to the brain) and the anterior cerebral artery (which is where brain tissue begins) on ice. Both of these body parts rapidly constrict from the coldness. Meanwhile, receptors in the outer covering of the brain called meninges sense this rapid change, and send pain signals to the brain in response as a warning to stop causing these wild temperature fluctuations.
Essentially, your noggin throws a temper tantrum because it’s too darn cold, and that is the sensation the brain is interpreting as pain. Or as neuroscientist Dwayne Godwin put it somewhat more eloquently to ScienceDaily: “One thing the brain doesn’t like is for things to change, and brain freeze is a mechanism to prevent you from doing that.”
Now for the more important question: Is there a cure for brain freeze? The obvious answer is to simply stop drinking the frosty beverage or downing the frigid ice cream, which should quickly allow the headache to subside. But since we all know slushees are too good to put down, try pushing your (warmer) tongue up to the roof of your mouth, or drink something lukewarm to normalize the temperature in the back of your throat. This should warm your brain up just in time for another slurp.