Doc­tors give scoop on the brain freeze

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - ALLIE SHAH

There’s noth­ing sweet about the hurt in­flicted when we scarf down a cold treat too quickly, caus­ing brain freeze.

We clutch our heads. We squeeze our eyes shut and wait for what seems like an eter­nity for that burst of pain be­hind our eyes to sub­side.

When it does, we take an­other bite.

“The think­ing is when this su­per cold ice cream hits the roof of your mouth, your body’s ini­tial re­ac­tion is that the blood ves­sels there con­strict,” ex­plained Dr. Jes­sica Heir­ing, an ex­pert in headache and mi­graine man­age­ment at the Min­neapo­lis Clinic of Neu­rol­ogy in Min­neapo­lis.

It’s a shock to the sys­tem sim­i­lar to putting your hand on a hot stove. But un­like with the stove, the body can’t es­cape dan­ger sim­ply by pulling away. So it rushes blood flow to the area to try to warm it up.

Mean­while, the nerves that run along­side your blood ves­sels near the roof of your mouth sense the neigh­bor­ing blood ves­sels are shrink­ing and di­lat­ing. Then they, too, re­act.

“When the ves­sels shrink and di­late like that, the nerves next to it try to send sig­nals up to your brain say­ing the ves­sels are re­ally di­lat­ing — some­thing’s hap­pen­ing inside our mouths,” Heir­ing said.

But the brain mis­in­ter­prets the lo­ca­tion of the pain. That’s be­cause those nerve sig­nals from your mouth reach a large nerve cen­ter in your brain, where more of the in­put re­ceived comes from nerves in the face. And for that split sec­ond, the brain thinks the low tem­per­a­ture in your mouth is also in your face.

This pro­duces a “re­ferred pain,” ex­plained Dr. Rohan Lall, a neu­rol­o­gist with Fairview South­dale in Edina. Sec­onds later, the brain sorts it all out and re­al­izes the ex­treme cold and di­lat­ing blood ves­sels are merely inside your mouth.

“The blood gets there, the nerves stop fir­ing, and ev­ery­thing re­turns to its nor­mal, happy place,” Heir­ing said.

So what’s a Rocky Road-lov­ing per­son to do? Some peo­ple swear by this trick: Place your tongue on the roof of your mouth when you start to get a brain freeze.

“Be­cause your tongue has a lot of good flow, it can warm up the palate quicker,” Heir­ing said. “Also, drink­ing some­thing warmer right away would help.”

That’s why peo­ple who drink cof­fee with their ice cream are less prone to brain freeze, she said.

An­other ap­proach is to (sigh) eat more slowly.

And if you’re de­vour­ing a root bear float or a malt, use a spoon in­stead of a straw. That min­i­mizes the chance of the cold liq­uid hit­ting the roof of your mouth, Heir­ing said.

“A quick tem­per­a­ture change — that’s the trig­ger for all of this,” she said.

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