Ice cream headaches are brief, stabbing headaches that can happen when you eat, drink or inhale something cold. Digging into an ice cream cone is a common trigger, but eating or drinking other frosty items, such as ice pops and slushy frozen drinks, can have the same "brain-freeze" effect.
Officially known as cold stimulus headaches, they can also occur when you suddenly expose your unprotected head to cold temperatures, like diving into cold water.
But there's good news. Most ice cream headaches are gone as quickly as they develop.
Symptoms of an ice cream headache include:
- Sharp, stabbing pain in the forehead
- Pain that peaks about 20 to 60 seconds after it begins and goes away in about the same time
- Pain that rarely lasts longer than five minutes
When to see a doctor
Because ice cream headaches go away on their own shortly after they start, there's no need to see a doctor.
Ice cream headaches are caused by cold material moving across the warm roof of your mouth and the back of your throat, such as when you eat ice cream quickly or gulp a cold drink. Scientists are still unsure about the exact mechanism that causes this pain.
One theory is that the cold food or drink may temporarily alter blood flow in your nervous system, causing a brief headache. Blood vessels constrict to prevent the loss of body heat and then relax again to let blood flow rise. This results in a burst of pain that subsides once the body adapts to the temperature change.
Ice cream headaches can affect anyone. But you may be more susceptible to ice cream headaches or have more-severe ice cream headaches if you're prone to migraines.
To help prevent ice cream headaches, try eating cold foods and drinking cold beverages slowly. The best way to avoid getting an ice cream headache is to avoid the cold food or drinks that cause them.
March 06, 2015
- Headache: Hope through research. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/headache/detail_headache.htm Accessed Feb. 17, 2015.
- Headache Classification Subcommittee of the International Headache Society. The international classification of headache disorders: 2nd edition. Cephalalgia. 2004;24(suppl):9.
- Kararizou E. An update on the less-known group of other primary headaches — A review. European Neurological Review. 2014;9:71.
- Garza I. Cold stimulus headache. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed Feb. 17, 2015.