Thursday, January 08, 2009

Brains on ice

Wikipedia says it's known as brain freeze; shake ache; frigid face; a freezie; frozen-brain syndrome; and a cold-stimulus headache. The Mayo Clinic calls it a "headache attributed to ingestion or inhalation of a cold stimulus."

Most of us just call it an ice-cream headache. And those of us who ride in sub-zero weather know that it can hurt like a sonofabitch.

So far this week, I've ridden my new singlespeed conversion to work twice in morning temperatures in the neighborhood of -15F, give or take a couple of degrees, depending on whose thermometer you believe. In those temps, unless I remember to ride slowly at first, I tend to get about a third of a mile from my house before the front of my head feels like it's being crushed under a Chevy truck. For two or three minutes, I have to roll my head from side to side and blink my eyes while the throbbing pain makes me feel like I'm going to pass out and collapse into a snow bank.

Even if I do ride slowly, I still get a milder ice-cream headache for a minute or two. Once it passes, of course, the rest of the ride is generally enjoyable. But until then ... damn.

It's just one of the costs of riding in winter. And it could be worse, because there are things that hurt a lot more like ... oh, I don't know ... gunshot wounds, burns, gettin' kicked in the 'nads, that kind of stuff.

The staff at Mayo says that headaches caused by cold foods and drinks might be prevented if you "warm up cold foods in the front of your mouth before swallowing." Unfortunately, it's kind of hard to use that method with air when you're pedaling a bike.

I guess we just have to grin and bear it. And remind ourselves that when the temperature rises to 18 again, it's going to feel really, really good.


The Donut Guy said...

18 feels really good? I guess you really, *really* gotta like cold weather to live where you do.

61 Degrees North said...

Have you ever tried one of the heat exchange face masks? I've read about them, but never tried one. They work on the principle of capturing the heat and water from your exhaled breath and warming and humidifying the incoming cold air. I found at least one scientific study that they actually work for people with cold-air induced asthma.

Here are some links:

And here is the scientific study:

Maybe you could score a free mask if you agree to review it for the manufacturer and post a link?

Just an idea...

WayUpNorthInAlaska said...

I have an eye condition where my tear ducts seem like they're working double-time, and when it's way below zero it's fun to feel your tears freezing your eyes closed.

gemils said...

I saw a woman running with one of those heat exchanger mask thingies a couple of days ago, running in -20 while I inhaled bandanna on my ride home.

I have been able to avoid the brain freeze phenomenon while biking these last few weeks, opting instead for the suffocating effects of wet cloth in front of my mouth (which inevitably ends up IN my mouth after some of the heavier sprints).

I wind up pulling it down at a stop light only to find it frozen around my neck and to my beard when I try to get rolling again.

Glad to hear about another single-speed bike! I have been riding an orange fixed-gear all winter and absolutely love it.

0 degrees Fahrenheit tonight, hooray! It's a heatwave!

Vito said...

Isn't the cold weather fun!! You're right about one thing. Experiencing a lot of below zero weather now will definitely make 10 degrees feel like a heat wave.

How are you liking that single-speed?

KB said...

When it gets down to zero or lower here, I have a cold-sensitive tooth that bugs me for the first bit of my ride. I have to keep my mouth shut and breath through my nose. That's tough on the first climb of the day!