Many people experience these sudden, excruciating and brief headaches after ingesting something cold. Yet ice cream headache, or brain freeze, is more of an unpleasant quirk of our existence than a serious disease.
Technically known as cold-stimulus headaches, an ice cream headache is set off when an unusually cold substance passes over the palate and back of the throat. Typical triggers include blended icy drinks, ice water and frozen treats such as ice cream, particularly when consumed rapidly on a warm day.
No one is quite sure what causes the actual pain, but it is thought that a combination of direct stimulation of temperature-sensitive nerves plus the cold’s effects on blood vessels running along the roof of the mouth.
The pain, through a quirk of our anatomy, is not felt so much in the mouth as it is “referred” to other areas of the face — behind the eyes and nose, in the forehead or elsewhere. One study has suggested that migraine sufferers may be more susceptible to these headaches.