Its a funny thing to think that there is a headache that is named after a food we all enjoy. But an ice cream headache is a very real condition with very real symptoms.
A man named Daniel Drake wrote the first record of ice cream upsetting the stomachs of some people, of making them too cold or causing a pain in the pharynx, in 1850.
At this time ice cream had been available to enjoy in America since the early 1700s. Mr. Drake wrote a book entitled the Principal Diseases of North America but he did not include headaches as one of the symptoms of ice cream eating. Ice cream headaches are also sometimes called brain freeze.
The pain from an ice cream, or any other cold food, headache comes up very quickly, starting usually only a few moments after you begin to eat the cold food. It peaks within twenty to forty seconds and is over shortly after that in most people. In some others it can last up to five minutes before subsiding.
The pain can be anywhere in the head but is more often in the middle of the front of a persons forehead. It can also be in the eyes or at the temples. Interestingly one third of all Americans will get a headache when they first begin to eat ice cream.
Although researchers are not positive what causes the ice cream headache they do have some theories. They theorize that the glossopharyngeal nerve, which controls sensation, causes this pain. This nerve sends a message to the brain when the cold from the ice cream touches a persons palate, their tonsils or their pharynx. This message is read as pain.
Other researchers claim that the palate, which is the roof of your mouth, is the culprit. The area is very sensitive because of all the nerves and blood vessels that are in your mouth. They say that the cold sets off a reaction in the blood vessels that makes them swell excessively and that it is this swelling that makes you head ache when eating an ice cream treat.
Actually it need not be only ice cream that gets the blame for these painful mini headaches. It can be anything excessively cold from a glass of ice water to a slushy. One way to avoid getting an ice cream headache is to eat the ice cream very slowly or slide it over to one side so it does not touch the palate, as the palate is the chief sensor of the ice cream. Others will suggest warming up a cold food.
Either way it makes sense to try your best to avoid this sudden agonizing pain and to have the opportunity to just enjoy a nice double scoop of ice cream. Though at least it is encouraging to know that no matter how frequently you may suffer from these ice cream headaches they are normal, are not dangerous and can do you no long-term harm.
Did you like this article? Then you'll really want to sign up for my newsletter. It's delivered several times a week and packed with science news and analysis. Subscribe Here.