What is an Ice Cream Headache?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 January 2020
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Sometimes referred to as frozen brain syndrome or brain freeze, the ice cream headache is a short-term phenomenon that occurs when an individual quickly ingests an extremely cold substance such as an ice-cold drink or a large helping of ice cream. While brief, the sensation created by an ice cream headache is not generally considered to be pleasant. However, it is not uncommon for human beings to quickly forget the short bout with pain and begin to consume the cold substance at a rapid pace as soon as the headache subsides.

The cold temperature of the food or drink causes constriction of blood vessels located in the upper palate of the mouth. To compensate, the brain sends a message to the constricted blood vessels to relax. This rapid relaxation of the blood vessels causes the fluid content of the vessels to back up in the surrounding tissues. As a result, the higher fluid content creates a brief but noticeable pain in the cranium. The pain remains for anywhere from a few seconds to a minute. Depending on the individual, the pain may be severe enough to require lying down until the headache passes or be little more than an annoyance that slows down further consumption for a moment or two.


While an ice cream headache is usually connected to the rapid consumption of ice cream, other cold foods and beverages can also create the phenomenon. Brain freeze can result from drinking an ice-cold beverage such as soda or partially frozen slush drinks. There is some evidence that yogurt that has chilled to a temperature similar to that of ice cream can also produce an ice cream headache. Even sucking on an ice cube for several minutes may produce the same effect in some people.

The easiest way to avoid an ice cream headache is to consume the food or beverage at a leisurely pace while taking smaller bites or sips of the substance. In most cases, an ice cream headache comes about due to filling the mouth to capacity with the cold substance very quickly. By consuming smaller portions and allowing more time between those spoonfuls or sips, the blood vessels are less likely to constrict rapidly and cause the brain to issue instructions to quickly relax. This will result in less incidence of fluid collecting in the surrounding tissue and causing these short-term headaches.


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Post 2

I get brain freeze, but I also sometimes get a throbbing ache in my temple. It's kind of weird. I'll eat or drink something cold, and then my temples will start throbbing. I'm sure it's a form of brain freeze, but it tends to last longer.

Actual brain freeze seems to hurt right behind my eyes and across the bridge of my nose. It's a sharp pain and really doesn't last that long. When my temples throb, sometimes it's for as long as five minutes or so, whereas brain freeze lasts a minute or less. I'm not crazy about getting either kind of pain.

Post 1

An ice cream headache -- or brain freeze -- can happen when eating or drinking anything cold. I've had it happen when I drink a slush, or even a really cold soda. No, it's not pleasant, but it's hard to avoid, since most people do like to drink cold drinks or eat ice cream.

I saw an episode of "Food Detectives" where they tested some volunteers to see if having a cooler mouth temperature before eating something frozen helped prevent brain freeze. I don't think it made much difference, if I remember correctly. Everyone still got brain freeze to a greater or lesser degree.

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