Ice cream headache, also called brain freeze, is a problem for some people and not for others. For those who deal with it, it can be a temporary but painful problem, not only when they eat ice cream but also when they try to drink cold drinks, or have any other sudden cold around the mouth.
But what causes these headaches? Because they're not considered a serious problem, and only last for a very short period of time, these types of headaches have been studied very little. But there are a couple of reasons why they're getting more attention. First, migraineurs seem to get them more then most. Second, those who do get migraine attacks sometimes find that ice cream headache triggers migraine symptoms, which can be far more painful and last longer.
In 1968, British neurologist Dr. R. O. Smith began to study the ice cream headache in detail. He didn't discover the cause for sure, although he did notice that it seemed to be more of a problem in warmer climates.
It's believed that the nerves in the roof of your mouth react in such a way that they make your blood vessels constrict and dilate, triggering pain in another part of your body. No, your brain isn't really freezing, and there doesn't seem to be any permanent damage done.
Look at it this way. There are a lot of blood vessels in your mouth, tongue, and throat. And there are some very important arteries in the area, such as the internal carotoid artery and the anterior cerebral artery. These are both connected to the brain.
Your head and brain don't like sudden changes. And although the brain itself doesn't feel pain, the protection around it can. When arteries start constricting and contracting, the pain may begin.
A study published in 2012 further confirmed the blood vessel theory. Read more at Ice Cream Headache (Brain Freeze!): A New Study.
Of course, we know now that there's a lot more to migraine than just spasms in blood vessels. But maybe continued study will give us one more clue about how other headaches work.
Ice cream headache now has a more official name, thanks to The International Classification of Headache Disorders. It's Headache attributed to ingestion or inhalation of a cold stimulus. This includes not just eating ice cream, but any kind of cold stimulus to the nerves in that area. Related are other headaches caused by stimulus of the nerves in the head, whether it be from a virus or a tight hat or an unknown cause.
~Read this article for more on the mechanism of ice cream headache
Research and common wisdom agree that you should try to eat your ice
cream more slowly! It may also help to keep cold food and drink toward
the front of your mouth (the two arteries I mentioned above meet right there).
You can also try warming the top of your mouth with your tongue, or drinking some luke-warm water.
For some people, the pain gets pretty intense! It's been recommended that you try lowering your head below your heart in this case, or putting something cold somewhere else on your body – a sensitive area, like your wrist.
If you're anything like me, it's worth it to find a solution – the ultimate solution (abstaining from ice cream) is just too horrible...
Here's an article about prevention research - how can I avoid these headaches?