Discovered: This Is What Happens to Your Body When Having a Brain Freeze

Encountering a brain freeze, also referred to as an ice cream headache or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, is a sudden and uncomfortable sensation that may arise when consuming cold foods or beverages, particularly on hot days. Although this phenomenon is typically brief and harmless, gaining insight into the physiological processes underlying a brain freeze can help elucidate this peculiar sensation.

What Causes Brain Freeze?

Brain freeze, alternatively termed an ice cream headache or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, occurs due to the rapid chilling of blood vessels in the roof of the mouth (palate) or the back of the throat when consuming cold substances such as ice cream, frozen desserts, or icy beverages. The specific mechanism responsible for brain freeze involves a sequence of physiological responses initiated by the sudden exposure to cold temperatures.

The step-by-step Breakdown of What Happens in Your Body During a Brain Freeze

Cold Stimulus

When you ingest a cold food or beverage, the sudden exposure to low temperatures causes rapid cooling of the blood vessels in your mouth and throat. This abrupt temperature change initiates a physiological reaction in the body, setting off a sequence of events that ultimately leads to the sensation commonly referred to as brain freeze or ice cream headache.

Upon contact with the roof of your mouth (palate) or the back of your throat, the cold substance triggers a response in the blood vessels in these areas. They react to the extreme cold by constricting, a process known as vasoconstriction. This vasoconstriction is the body’s innate response to the cold stimulus, aiming to conserve heat and prevent further loss of temperature.


Vasoconstriction involves the narrowing of blood vessels, a physiological response triggered by various stimuli, including exposure to cold temperatures. When you consume cold foods or beverages, such as ice cream or chilled drinks, the sudden sensation of cold stimulates vasoconstriction in the blood vessels of your mouth and throat.

This vasoconstrictive response is a natural reflex aimed at conserving heat within the body’s core. By narrowing the blood vessels in the roof of the mouth and throat, the body reduces blood flow to these areas, minimizing heat loss to the external environment. This mechanism helps maintain the body’s overall temperature stability and ensures that vital organs remain adequately warmed.


Vasodilation represents the opposite of vasoconstriction and involves the widening or relaxation of blood vessels, facilitating increased blood flow and circulation to specific areas of the body. This physiological response is crucial for regulating blood pressure and delivering oxygen-rich blood to tissues.

During vasodilation, the diameter of blood vessels enlarges, enabling a greater volume of blood to pass through. This process is governed by multiple factors, including neurotransmitters, hormones, and local tissue conditions.

Nerve Response

A nerve response involves the reaction of nerves to different stimuli, leading to the transmission of signals throughout the body. Nerves are specialized cells that comprise a network known as the nervous system, responsible for controlling and coordinating bodily functions and responses to the environment.

Pain Perception

The perception of pain involves how our bodies detect, process, and interpret signals related to tissue damage or potential injury. It encompasses a complex interaction among sensory receptors, nerves, spinal cord pathways, and the brain. Pain serves as a critical protective mechanism that alerts us to potential harm and motivates us to take actions to avoid further injury.

    Symptoms of Brain Freeze

    Sharp Headache

    The most notable symptom of brain freeze is a sudden, stabbing headache that occurs within seconds of consuming something cold. This headache is often felt at the front or sides of the head and can be quite intense.

    Brief Duration

    Brain freeze headaches are typically short-lived, lasting for a few seconds to a minute or so. The headache usually subsides quickly once the cold stimulus is removed or the mouth warms up.

    Location of Pain

    The pain associated with brain freeze is commonly felt in the forehead, temples, or behind the eyes. Some people may also experience pain in the roof of the mouth or throat.

    Managing Brain Freeze

    Pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth is a technique commonly used to alleviate brain freeze or ice cream headaches. When you experience brain freeze, the rapid chilling of blood vessels in the roof of your mouth triggers a pain response. By pressing your tongue firmly against this area, you can help warm up the tissues and blood vessels, which may help alleviate the headache sensation.

    Drinking warm water is a common remedy to alleviate brain freeze or ice cream headaches. When you experience brain freeze, the rapid chilling of blood vessels in the roof of your mouth triggers a painful sensation. Drinking warm water can help counteract this sensation by warming up the affected tissues and blood vessels.

    Covering your mouth can be a simple and effective technique to alleviate the discomfort of brain freeze. When you experience brain freeze, also known as an ice cream headache, it’s typically caused by the rapid cooling of blood vessels in the roof of your mouth due to consuming cold foods or drinks.

    When to Seek Medical Attention

    Brain freeze is a transient sensation that usually does not necessitate medical intervention. However, if you encounter frequent or severe headaches unrelated to cold exposure, it’s crucial to seek advice from a healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical issues.

    Brain freeze is an intriguing and benign occurrence triggered by rapid alterations in blood flow and nerve activity in response to cold stimuli. By comprehending the physiological mechanisms behind brain freeze, you can effectively manage the discomfort and responsibly continue to indulge in cold treats.