Brain Freeze: What Causes an Ice Cream Headache?

Ever had a bad case of sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, better known as an ice cream headache or “brain freeze”?

This short-lived, painful headache occurs when something cold—ice cream, frigid water, etc.— stimulates the sphenopalatine nerve located above the roof of your mouth and near the surface of your face. In response to this cold stimulus, your brain briefly constricts its blood vessels to reduce blood flow, then abruptly dilates them. The ensuing rush of blood causes the intense pain.

This column originally appeared in the print edition of AMC Outdoors along with the column "In Cold Water: How paddlers brave the icy rush." You can also learn more in my previous post, Cold Water Brain Freeze.

Equipped” is an AMC Outdoors blog, written by Matt Heid.

Illustration by iStock.

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