Baylor College of Medicine

Take your time to prevent brain freeze

Take your time to prevent brain freeze

Dipali Pathak


Houston, TX -
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When the heat is unbearable, a cool treat is just what the doctor ordered, but not so fast! Eating or drinking cold foods too quickly can cause the dreaded brain freeze. Experts at Baylor College of Medicine break down what this common summertime nuisance is all about.

“It isn’t actually lowering the temperature of your brain. When you consume cold foods or drinks too fast, it cools down the carotid artery located just behind your jawline. Doing that chills the blood going to your brain,” said Dr. Greg McLauchlin, assistant professor of neurology at Baylor. “When it gets too cold, alarms go off and that activates nerve pain telling you to stop and back away from the smoothie!”

McLauchlin said brain freeze is known medically as sphenopalatine neuralgia. But he explained that brain freeze is not so much a headache and more of a reflex. It doesn’t have any long-term affect with no real danger, just the intense pain that usually lasts a few seconds.

To prevent the pain, just enjoy your cold treat slowly. But if that isn’t an option, warming you mouth quickly with a warm drink might also do the trick.

While most people don’t run to the doctor suffering from brain freeze, it is an event that actually has taught doctors a thing or two about cluster headaches, a severe headache on one side of the head associated with red or teary eyes, runny or stuffy nose, flushing or sweating of the face or a sense of restlessness and agitation.

“We have actually learned some things from brain freeze. The same area that causes brain freeze is also involved in cluster headaches. We treat cluster headaches by using a sphenopalatine block, basically numbing up the area involved in brain freeze,’’ McLauchlin said.

Bottom line, slow it down when consuming cold food or beverages. If not, be willing to face the pain for the joy of a summertime treat.

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