Brain freeze is an intense headache immediately after eating something cold. Learn about the symptoms, causes, treatment, and prevention. Brain freeze (sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia) is an excruciating head pain when eating something cold. It is also called “ice cream headache” because it correlates with extremely cold foods, like frozen treats. Medically speaking, brain
Brain freeze (sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia) is an excruciating head pain when eating something cold. It is also called “ice cream headache” because it correlates with extremely cold foods, like frozen treats. Medically speaking, brain freeze is classified as a cold-stimulus headache.
Brain freeze affects the vascular and nervous systems. Healthcare providers believe that when something extremely cold hits the roof of your mouth, it drops the temperature dramatically, causing the blood vessels to constrict. They then reopen quickly, triggering a pain signal in the brain.
This article explains brain freeze symptoms, causes, diagnosis, prevention, and how to cope.
Brain freeze occurs when you eat something cold. Therefore, you may notice symptoms while eating ice cream, a slushy, a popsicle, or an iced drink. Symptoms include:
Interestingly, brain freeze can also occur if you are exposed to very low environmental temperatures. For example, when you inhale cold air or dive into cold water, you may also experience a cold-stimulus headache.
While brain freeze seems like a universal experience, not everyone experiences this type of headache. A study of 618 people found that 51% of participants experienced brain freeze.
Frigid temperatures in the mouth or environment cause brain freeze. Examples of how brain freeze may occur include:
In addition, people who experience migraines seem to be more predisposed to brain freeze. An older study on adolescents found that 55.2% of those with a history of migraines experienced brain freeze compared to 39.6% of those without a history of migraines.
You won’t require a formal diagnosis for brain freeze most of the time. That’s because the cause and effect are often so obvious and the symptoms short-lived.
However, the International Headache Society (IHS) has diagnostic criteria for cold-stimulus headaches. They include:
After eating something very cold, sudden, intense headache pain is often a brain freeze.
If you experience a sudden, severe headache after eating something cold and it does not go away quickly, you should contact your healthcare provider. Likewise, if a sudden, severe headache is not accompanied by cold air, water, or food, contact a healthcare provider since this can sometimes indicate a medical emergency.
The best thing to do is stop eating the offending food that is causing the brain freeze. Thankfully, brain freeze is short-lived, so often, once you remove the culprit, it goes away on its own. In addition, try the following:
You may be tempted to pop an Advil (ibuprofen) or Tylenol (acetaminophen). However, remember that doing so is often futile since the brain freeze will likely be over before the pain reliever kicks in.
A brain freeze is usually easy to spot because of its direct correlation to eating cold foods. However, you shouldn’t blow off every sudden, intense headache, as these are sometimes warning signs of a medical emergency, like stroke, brain infection, or tumor.
Warning signs that warrant medical attention include:
Brain freeze is a sudden headache in your forehead and temples after eating something cold, like ice cream. Known medically as cold-stimulus headache, it happens because extreme temperature change on your palate causes your blood vessels to constrict and reopen rapidly. This vascular change sends a pain signal to the brain, resulting in a headache.
Brain freeze is short-lived, often resolving within 10 minutes after you stop eating. You can usually prevent or reduce symptoms by eating slowly, warming food in your mouth before swallowing, and drinking something warm.
If you experience sudden severe pain in your forehead while eating something cold, chances are you have a brain freeze. Fortunately, brain freeze is short-lived, often resolving when you stop eating. Therefore, no treatment is usually necessary.
However, keep in mind that not all sudden, severe headaches are benign. Sometimes they can indicate something serious like a stroke or a tumor. If your headache is not associated with something cold or it doesn't resolve on its own quickly, contact a healthcare provider.