Dear Food Speak:

I seem to be getting more "brain freeze" lately when I eat ice cream. What exactly is it, and is there a way to prevent it?

C.H.

Fairfield

I scream, you scream, we all scream ... from brain freeze!

Most everyone has experienced the excruciating pain of brain freeze at one time or another. It happens when something very cold touches the roof of your mouth causing a rapid temperature shift that sets off nerves controlling how much blood flows through your head. The stabbing pain comes from nerves triggering blood vessels to contract and then dilate.

Rest assured, the brain doesn't actually freeze. It's a normal physiological response and poses no danger.

You may be experiencing brain freeze more often lately simply because the warmer months call for downing more icy cold treats.

If you suffer from migraine headaches, some research suggests you may be more prone to brain freeze. A recent study also has found that brain freeze may share certain traits with other types of headaches, such as migraines or pain caused by brain injuries.

By exploring blood flow patterns associated with headaches, researchers are hoping to design better treatments for them.

The best way to prevent brain freeze is to consume cold foods and beverages slowly. Also, warm up cold items by holding them on the front of your tongue before letting them hit the roof of your mouth. If you're lucky enough to sense brain freeze coming on gradually, head it off by taking a break from eating the cold item at the first sign of a funny feeling in your head.

When the instantaneous pain catches you off guard, remember not to hold whatever's cold inside your mouth since that only chills your palate more, possibly lengthening the pain. Brain freeze should only last a minute or so, yet it can feel like much longer.

Some say you can ease the pain by forming a mask with your hands over your mouth and nose and breathing deeply to warm the inside of your mouth. If available, drink warm water for a similar effect.

Find out what works for you so you can get back to that ice cream!

Courtney Sansonetti is a medical nutrition therapist and certified diabetes educator for Rehabilitation Associates Inc. Her Food Speak column appears monthly. Email your questions to c.sansonetti@rehabassocinc.com.