Why Does Brain Freeze Happen? The Science Behind the Pain

Uncover the science behind brain freeze and the concept of referred pain, involving the trigeminal nerve.

Why Does Brain Freeze Happen? The Science Behind the Pain
Photo by Louis Hansel / Unsplash

We've all experienced the sudden jolt of pain that comes with consuming something frozen too quickly.

This phenomenon, often referred to as a 'brain freeze,' leaves us wondering why it happens.

Referred Pain and the Brain

Referred pain occurs when pain stemming from one part of the body is perceived in another.

A classic example is the sensation of pain in the left arm during a heart attack.

The pain originates in the heart, but the arm is where the discomfort is felt.

The Science Behind Brain Freeze

When a cold substance makes contact with the roof of the mouth, it swiftly leads to the constriction and subsequent dilation of the blood vessels in that area.

The resulting pain is then 'referred' to the head, creating the familiar sensation of a headache.

Nerves and Response

The trigeminal nerve, responsible for sensations in the face, is a key player in this process.

The sudden temperature change triggers a rapid response, causing the vessels in the mouth to react, ultimately leading to the unpleasant sensation of brain freeze.

Dealing with Brain Freeze

The good news is that brain freeze, while uncomfortable, is temporary.

By allowing the mouth to warm up or consuming something warmer, the blood vessels relax, alleviating the discomfort.

Prevention and Management

Avoiding consuming very cold items quickly or pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth while enjoying them may mitigate the occurrence of brain freeze.

Stay Curious

Understanding the physiological process behind brain freeze can help us find ways to prevent and manage this discomfort.

The next time you experience this sensation, take comfort in knowing it's a temporary response to a sudden change in temperature.