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Ice cream headache: How to indulge in cold food painlessly
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Ice cream headache: How to indulge in cold food painlessly

You don't need to give up on cold food or drinks, the common trigger for ice cream headache. Try these effective techniques to get rid of the pain, say experts
Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health

Ice cream headache is one of the most depriving, if not debilitating, forms of headaches. The trigger is not just ice creams; eating any cold substance can induce pain in a few. Ice cream headache is also known as, brain freeze or cold stimulus headache.

Usually brought on by a sudden sensation when cold liquid or solid food comes into contact with the palate (roof of the mouth) and posterior pharynx (back part of the throat). Ice cream headaches typically occur in the frontal or temporal area (the front and side of the head).

The diagnostic criteria for cold stimulus headache include at least two episodes of headaches triggered by any cold stimuli, such as drinking cold water, which resolves within 10 minutes after removing the cold stimulus from the mouth. For which, other possible causes must be absent,” says Dr Krishnan PR, senior consultant – neurology, Fortis Hospital, Bannerghatta Road, Bengaluru.

Understanding the cause of ice cream headache

The mucosa (the moist lining of the oral cavity) covering the palate and the posterior pharyngeal wall has many sensitive nerve endings and blood vessels. When you place something very cold against the roof of the mouth while eating or drinking, the blood vessels rapidly contract. However, as soon as the food or drink is gone inside, the blood vessels dilate again.

“This sudden shrinkage of the artery [vasoconstriction] followed by a sudden dilatation of the artery [vasodilatation] irritates the nerves in the roof of the mouth, especially branches of the trigeminal nerve,” explains Dr Krishnan. “Ultimately over-stimulation of the trigeminal nerve is what causes the ice cream headache because of a referral pain to the frontal and temporal region of the head.”

Depending on the individual, the pain may persist for a few seconds or several minutes.

Who is more prone to ice cream headaches?

Even though the headache is not indicative of any underlying medical condition, the episodes are often observed in people with a history of migraine or vascular headaches.

“In migraines, the headache is often triggered by the dilatation of blood vessels due to various neurochemical factors. In this scenario, the cold stimulus might induce a similar kind of headache in people having migraine,” says Dr Sinjan Ghosh, consultant – neurology, Fortis Hospital, Anandapur, Kolkata.

Effective tips to alleviate brain freeze

According to experts, cold stimulus headaches do not require any specific treatment other than avoiding the trigger. However, there are tips you can try to manage the headache if you don’t want to give up on ice cream or cold beverages.

If you experience brain freeze right after consuming something cold, the first thing to do is to bring your mouth and throat to the normal temperature.

“Restoring the normal temperature of your mouth by drinking room temperature or slightly warm liquids can help reduce the headache. You can also try pressing your tongue on your mouth’s roof to provide warmth,” says Dr Krishnan. The headache normally goes away as the specific stimulus is removed, he adds.

Another technique is to eat cold food slowly. “Refrain from eating and drinking cold beverages too fast. When eating or drinking, it is ideal to take small bites or sips and wait for the item to warm up a little in the mouth before swallowing,” says Dr Ghosh.

Licking ice cream off a cone is a better way to consume it than eating a spoonful. It is not ideal to drink cold liquids with a straw. Because the straw will deposit the drink directly against the roof of your mouth. It is better to drink it from a glass.

Takeaways

  • Ice cream headache is caused by a sudden cold sensation in the roof of the mouth and back part of the throat.
  • People with a history of migraine tend to experience episodes of ice cream headaches.
  • To relieve an ice cream headache, consider consuming room temperature or slightly warm water to restore the normal temperature of your mouth.
  • Consume cold food or beverages slowly, taking small bites and sips, allowing the item to warm up slightly in the mouth before swallowing.

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