What causes an ice cream headache?


Er, that article is from three years ago.

If it truly remains unstudied – surely some ice-cream conglomerate would have been overjoyed to pony up the funds? – it sound like the sort of thing that could get Kickstarter funding in a matter of days.

There was a McDonald’s Happy Meal commercial several years ago with a kid saying, “If I ruled the world…” Among other things one of his stated goals was to find out what causes an ice cream headache. There was something admirable about McDonald’s promoting such a lofty goal. It may not be a pressing problem, but, hey, there’s no such thing as useless knowledge.

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So how much would a simple study like this cost?

Confession: I’ve never had an ice-cream or slushy head ache. I have no idea what y’all are talking about.
Seriously, what does it feel like?

Considering the way I’ve seen scientists spend their grant money, it’d probably cost in the millions.

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Hold an ice cube in your hand. It feels cold against your skin, right? Imagine that same cold feeling spread out, but localized within your skull. In my experience it’s not awful, but it is pretty darned uncomfortable. As I got older I noticed I had them less and less. I don’t know whether that’s because my head got bigger or I just learned to slow down when eating ice cream. Or maybe both.

I thought it had been studied? I could swear I read something, years ago, about a nerve that’s behind the soft palate.

Confident guess work. The next best thing to actually knowing!

Why do I think this is going to turn out to have something to do with the clitoris?

Well from my experience with frozen drinks, ie Slurpee’s and Frozen Cokes I can say this… Take your tongue and feel the top of your mouth, just past the hard palate is a soft spot. When you get a brain freeze, take your tongue and warm this spot up(friction), brain freeze gone. So, not sure what that particular nerve cluster is, but it appears to be the one that causes brain freezes because the cold substance has to be in your mouth to achieve a brain freeze. Study done, awaiting peer review. Go buy a frozen drink, drink it fast, get brain freeze, take tongue and warm up spot and report back…

Well the suggestion that it is caused by vasoconstriction “like a migraine” neatly ignores that migraines are caused by VASODILATION not vasoconstriction. If ice cream can constrict these blood vessels it should improve a migraine.

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Are you kidding? Big Icecream will pay anything to suppress these studies!!!


I too have never experienced a head ache from eating icecream (and I tend to eat fast). Sometimes my teeth hurt, but not my whole head.

That might be caused by sensitive teeth. I get issues with that with foods that are too cold or too sweet.

I bet you eat your frozen treats like a civilized, dignified human being. There’s your problem. You’ve got to inhale that Rocky Road.


Like an icicle was clogged up my sinuses and that something is trying to squeeze my eyeballs both in and out at the same time.

Live metal music appeared to help my last migraine, so I’m definitely up for trying ice cream next time. Maybe ice cream and metal.

I hesitate to do this, because it is potentially dangerous… but being the irresponsible summer camp counselors that we were, we “taught” our teenage campers how to give themselves “brain-freeze.” It’s quite simple, stop reading now, if you don’t want to know. Simply hold the cold whatever in your mouth and breathe out your nose. Voila: Excruciating pain. I hope this helps in future studies.


Indeed, I improved a migraine while camping once by sticking my head under a faucet running ice cold water. When I eat ice cream too fast I feel it in my chest not my head, but it is excruciating. It might be related to my having Central Pain Syndrome; I don’t know. But I was struck, in the article, when they compared ice cream headaches to migraines–because the cold constricts blood vessels–because the pain from a migraine is caused by the exact opposite–the blood vessels in the head expand and press on nerves. Things that cause vasoconstriction–like caffeine–improve migraine pain, not cause it. The only reason caffeine is bad for migraine sufferers is because withdrawal from it causes vasodilation and complicates migraine. In the good old days before imitrex and related drugs many migraine medications contained caffeine.