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Shaved Ice and the Dreaded Brain Freeze

We’ve all been there. A hot summer day paired with an insatiable craving for something cool, sweet and refreshing. When you find a place that sells your favorite flavor of frozen shaved ice, you can’t help but stop by and dig in. Your first quick bite of the snowy fruit-flavored treat instantly sends a giant brain freeze pounding through your skull.


Have you ever wondered why this happens? Why does shaved ice and other frozen desserts give you a short-lasting headache?

The scientific name for a brain freeze is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia. Sometimes it is referred to as an “ice cream headache.”

Brain freeze occurs when something extremely cold touches the roof of one’s mouth. It typically happens when the weather is very hot, and you consumes something cold too fast.

When something cold touches the roof of your mouth, your nervous system sends a response that causes the pain we feel with a brain freeze. This sensation is thought to be caused by rapid constriction of the blood vessels in the roof of the mouth. A message is then shot up to your brain via the trigeminal nerve, one of the major nerves of the facial area.

The pain can last anywhere from a few seconds to a few minutes. In essence, a brain freeze is a very brief headache. Some researchers believe that we can learn more about headaches, including migraines, from studying the mechanisms by which brain freezes occur and also how they are relieved.

So how do you find relief and get back to enjoying your shaved ice?

There are several theories on how to “cure” a brain freeze. Scientific studies support what you probably already know, that you can largely avoid brain freeze by eating frozen food slowly.

Some people suggest drinking something warm. If you don’t have a warm drink nearby, you can try to push your tongue to the roof of your mouth in order to warm your upper palate.

Using a spoon instead of straw can also help direct the cold liquid towards the front or side of your mouth, not directly onto your palate where the nerve that triggers pain is located.

So enjoy your shaved ice, but take your time. Savor each bite and maybe you can avoid the dreaded brain freeze.

If you just can’t wait to slurp down that shaved ice think about these tips to stop the brain freeze in its tracks.

  • Spit out the offending cold dessert. Not the most attractive or polite option, but the face you make when you get a brain freeze might not be much better.
  • Drink something warm to warm up your palate. It doesn’t have to be burning hot — even room temperature water can help.
  • Press your tongue against the roof of your mouth. The heat and pressure are sometimes enough to stop the pain.
  • Open your mouth and cover it with your hand. Then breathe in through your mouth and out through your nose. This will help warm the inside of your mouth.
  • Tilt your head back for 10 seconds.