As we think on the changing season over the last deeply-frosted beverages demanded by summer’s heat, our minds can’t help but circle back to one persistent, vexing question: why does brain freeze happen?

The short answer is that it is your body telling you that you are drinking or eating something cold too quickly, and it wants you to stop. Most people figure that part out by themselves, and pretty quickly, too.

The longer answer is that you have a cluster of nerves in your soft palate called the sphenopalatine ganglion that is very sensitive to cold. When your sphenopalatine ganglion is overstimulated by cold, it tells your brain that you have a headache. Luckily, that headache is easily dispensed with by a: not drinking or eating the cold item, and b: pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth for a minute. Once the headache is gone, continue with your drink or snack, but more slowly.

The upside is that brain freeze is not dangerous. You can’t hurt yourself by continuing to eat or drink through a freeze, though who has the fortitude to do that? Also, we’re heading away from summer, so most people in the US don’t have to worry about it until temperatures start to rise next year. Even then, keep in mind that you have nothing to fear from brain freeze but brain freeze itself.

Written on August 23, 2018.