Brain Freeze

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It hits you right between the eyes, smack in the middle of your forehead. At our house we call it brain freeze. I am not referring to the inability to think clearly or about having a senior moment. I am talking about the dreaded ice cream headache.

This malady even has a scientific name, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia, or nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion. Studies have been done on brain freeze and the condition has even been the subject of research articles published in the British Medical Journal and Scientific American.

According to Wikipedia, brain freeze is a brief headache associated with the consumption—most often the quick consumption—of very cold beverages or foods such as ice cream or ice pops. There are several theories as to the cause of brain freeze. There is the anterior cerebral artery theory, the nerve response theory, and the sinus capillary theory.

It doesn’t matter which theory you subscribe to, it still hurts! Brain freeze usually lasts about 20 seconds and sometimes as long as a minute. It lasts long enough to keep you from eating ice cream for a few moments.

I think some people are more susceptible to brain freeze than others. Joe rarely gets brain freeze. I usually get it when I eat ice cream. So did my dad. I suppose it has a lot to do with the speed at which the ice cream is consumed. Guilty!

Ice cream was my dad’s favorite dessert. It didn’t matter what flavor ice cream was in the freezer, he would put a scoop on the side of any piece of pie or cake. Many times I saw him eating vanilla-chocolate swirl ice cream on blueberry pie. The flavor didn’t matter as long as it was ice cream.

My dad once told me that he got his love of ice cream when he was serving in the Army during WWII. He volunteered for the draft when he was only 18 years old, not old enough to drink beer. Instead he ate ice cream. He had a real fondness for ice cream after that.

I have come up with a several unconventional toppings to enhance my ice cream eating experience.  Dry Cocoa Puffs cereal folded into soft vanilla ice cream is delicious. Another is to spread peanut butter over vanilla ice cream and top that with orange marmalade. My dad often poured chocolate syrup over that. This was our personal favorite snack. Instant coffee granules sprinkled on and mixed with vanilla or chocolate ice cream is quite tasty. My favorite ice cream treat this hot summer is a chocolate ice cream sundae with marshmallow topping. The Tastee Treat at Rockford makes the best!

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We had an electric ice cream maker at home when I was young, although we didn’t use it often. I know I was an impatient child but it seemed to take forever to make ice cream. It must have taken an eternity to hand crank ice cream in the pre-electric days.

There was also quite a bit of preparation on my mom’s part. There was a recipe to follow and special ingredients to purchase. Junket tablets were involved, whatever they were for. I remember my parents putting lots of rock salt in with the ice as the machine churned. They experimented a little with flavors back then. We made butter pecan flavor once but vanilla was always the best. The ice cream right out of that freezer was very cold and was my first experience of brain freeze.

A neighbor or ours had a novel method of making ice cream at car shows. He jacked up the rear end of his Austin and took one of the lug nuts off a rear wheel. Then he connected the crank of his ice cream freezer to the wheel and turned on the car motor. What a clever way to make and share ice cream.

I will probably continue to eat my ice cream too quickly and continue to get brain freeze. If you have the same problem, here are some tips to help relieve the pain of brain freeze. Press your tongue against the roof of the mouth to warm the area. Tilt your head back for about 10 seconds. Drink a liquid that is warmer than what caused the ice cream headache. Slowly breathe in warm air through your nose. Eventually the pain will subside and you can resume eating ice cream.

And that is just what we want to do.



    • Joe on July 6, 2012 at 3:09 pm
    • Reply

    You need to warn people about the Berry chiller at MacDonalds. Even I get brain freeze from that. It’s nasty! By the way I appreciate that you didn’t advance the theory that brain size might be a factor in getting brain freeze.
    Good blog.

    1. No kidding! Not only did we get brain freeze from the Berry Chiller we thought we were having heart attacks! That is the coldest thing I have ever had.

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