‘Brain freeze’ comes from misread signal
What causes a “brain freeze”? Why do we get them? —S.F., Pleasantville, N.J.
Dear S.F.: Here’s what happens: When you eat or drink something really cold, tiny sensory nerves embedded in the roof of your mouth send a signal to the brain of a very cold temperature. These nerves help to control how much blood flows through the brain. Cold causes the blood vessels in the brain to dilate to increase their blood flow and heat the brain. The nerves have sent a signal to the brain in error that it’s cold outside and extra blood needs to be directed to the brain. After a period of time lasting from a few seconds to a few minutes, the brain realizes that the signal was a false alarm and the headache goes away as the blood vessels reduce their dilation. The greatest risk of getting these headaches is on a hot day. Those who suffer from migraine headaches are more prone to ice cream headaches because they have an exaggerated blood vessel response to various noxious stimuli such as cold temperatures, odors and foods.
The most well-known tip for avoiding a “brain freeze” is to keep cold foodstuff away from the roof of your mouth, since that’s where the trigger is.
What can be done once you have an ice cream headache? Warming the roof of your mouth is what works best. Try pressing your thumb firmly against the roof of your mouth. Or drink a warm liquid that’s at least at room temperature.
With the increase in anti-smoking education and ad campaigns, are fewer children smoking today than in the past? Are young people today getting the message? – W.K., Lima, Ohio
Dear W.K.: According to the recently released 2012 report from U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin, despite all the anti-smoking education in place, young people are smoking at rates far greater than adults. According to the report, nearly 25 percent of high school seniors are current smokers, compared with 33 percent of young adults, and approximately 20 percent of adults. Worse yet, about 1 in 10 male high school seniors use highly addictive smokeless tobacco and about 1 in 5 smoke cigars. Every day, 1,200 Americans die from smoking and each of those people are replaced by two young smokers.
The key to getting a handle on this serious public health problem is prevention: Among adults who smoke daily, 88 percent smoked their first cigarette before their 18th birthday, and more than 99 percent did so before their 26th birthday. If we can get young people to remain tobacco-free until they’re age 26, fewer than 1 percent of them will ever start.
Young people are impressionable, and even though the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement with the tobacco companies restricts the way tobacco can be marketed, the report found that one-third of the top-grossing children’s movies in 2010 contained images of smoking.
Possible strategies to reduce the incidence of smoking include increased funding for anti-smoking education and tobacco cessation programs; more graphic warning labels on tobacco products; increased smoke-free public areas; and steep price increases on all tobacco products.
Dr. Mitchell Hecht is a physician specializing in internal medicine. Send questions to him at: “Ask Dr. H,” P.O. Box 767787, Atlanta, GA 30076. Personal replies are not possible.