Ice Cream Headaches (Brain Freeze)

On a hot day, nothing hits the spot like a slushy frozen drink or an ice cream cone. But if you gulp down that frosty treat too quickly, you could be hit with the dreaded “brain freeze.”

Also known as an ice cream headache, a cold stimulus headache, or by the medical term “sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia,” the sharp throbbing pain in your forehead or temple is a familiar sensation for most of us.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly why it happens, but they think it might be brought on by sudden changes in the blood flow to your brain.

What Can You Do About It?

The easiest way to prevent an ice cream headache is stay away from anything ice-cold. If that doesn’t sound like fun, you can make them go away faster by letting your palate warm up again. Take a break from the banana split for a minute or two, have a swig of warm water, or press your tongue to the roof of your mouth.

Brain Freeze and Migraine

While ice cream headaches can hit anyone who enjoys an icy-cold treat, you might be more likely to have them -- or they might be worse -- if you tend to get migraines. But brain freeze is generally thought to be harmless, so that triple-scoop cone won’t trigger a migraine or any other type of serious headache.

Brain Freeze and Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

It’s very rare, but scientists think cold foods and drinks may sometimes bring on AFib, which is when your heart rate suddenly gets out of rhythm or is “fluttery.” It’s thought that your nervous system may be affected by the cold and trigger this reaction.

If you have symptoms of AFib -- heart palpitations, lightheadedness, or shortness of breath -- after an ice-cold treat, talk with your doctor about it.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Sabrina Felson, MD on April 20, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Johns Hopkins Medicine: “Ice Cream Headache.”

Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center: “Brrrr! It's Brain Freeze Season.”

Mayo Clinic: “Ice Cream Headaches.”

FASEB Journal: "Cerebral Vascular Blood Flow Changes During ‘Brain Freeze.' ”

Harvard Women's Health Watch: “What Causes Ice Cream Headache?”

American Journal of Case Reports: "Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation and Brain Freeze: A Case of Recurrent Co-Incident Precipitation From a Frozen Beverage.”

CDC: “Atrial Fibrillation Fact Sheet.”

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