Why do we Get Ice Cream Headaches If you’ve ever found yourself wondering
what causes ice cream headaches, well wonder no more. While many theories on what exactly causes
ice cream headaches or “brain freezes” have existed for some time, it has only been
very recently that it was discovered exactly what is going on here. It turns out, ice cream
headaches are a result of a rapid change in the size of blood vessels as a response to
an extreme shift in temperature in the roof of the mouth, particularly the back of the
roof of the mouth. Specifically, what is happening here is that
when you stick something extremely cold in your mouth and eat it quickly, such as drinking
an ice cold beverage or eating ice cream rapidly, it rapidly cools the palate of your mouth.
Why this is significant is that there is a nerve center located just above the back of
the roof of your mouth. This nerve center includes nerve clusters that send signals
to the brain about changes in body temperature. When these nerve clusters are rapidly cooled
by what you are consuming, they are over stimulated and send the message to the brain that the
body just lost a severe amount of heat. This ends up resulting in the rapid contraction
of blood vessels in your head. Shortly thereafter, the temperature at the
palate of your mouth goes back to normal and the nerve centers signal everything is fine
and the blood vessels end up rapidly dilating. This all can happen in a matter of a few seconds,
but the end result of this rapid contraction and dilation of blood vessels is an extreme,
sharp pain, often in your temples, forehead, or sometimes even in your face itself.
This ends up creating a very similar pulsing sensation that many people experience when
they get true migraine headaches. Migraine headaches can even be induced by cold temperatures
in some people, leading some researches to believe there is a close connection between
what is happening during certain types of migraine headaches and what is happening during
an ice-cream headache. Bonus Facts:
• The scientific name for an ice cream headache is “sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia”.
This basically just means “nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion”.
• Not that most ice-cream headaches last very long, typically at most 10-30 seconds
(though there have been documented instances of these headaches lasting as much as five
minutes), but if you want to have an ice cream headache go away a little bit faster, most
doctors suggest simply pressing your tongue against the roof of your mouth. This will
help heat up the palate a little faster than it would have otherwise, which will reduce
the time needed for the ice cream headache to go away. Alternatively, you can just consume
the cold item much slower to prevent the ice cream headache completely. This gives the
palate a chance to keep its temperature regulated enough that the nerve center above it doesn’t
overreact to what it’s sensing. • While most people at one point or another
in their lives has experienced an ice cream headache, these headaches are only somewhat
common in about 1/3 of humans. • The oldest documented form of something
resembling ice cream being served is from 200 BC in China. Here they served a frozen
mix of milk and rice. Yet another early frozen treat reference was from Rome around the year
50 when the Emperor Nero would have ice crushed and mixed with fruit toppings. The first actual
ice cream references, in terms of something closely resembling modern day ice cream, comes
from a recipe in an 18th century publication called Mrs. Mary Eales’s Receipts in London.
• One of the major developments in spurring the popularity of ice cream was the development
of soft serve ice cream in the 20th century. This method of making ice cream was developed
by a team of chemists in Britain, whose membership included Margaret Thatcher. They found a way
to double the amount of air per unit volume in ice cream. This, in turn, made the ice
cream cheaper to make (less ingredients, more air), and made it possible to have a relatively
simple machine make it to order from a spigot.