Ice cream headaches
Medically reviewed on January 26, 2018
Ice cream headaches are brief, stabbing headaches that can happen when you eat, drink or inhale something cold. Biting into an ice cream cone is a common trigger, but eating or drinking other frosty items, such as ice pops and slushy frozen drinks, can have the same "brain-freeze" effect.
Officially known as cold stimulus headaches, they can also occur when you suddenly expose your unprotected head to cold temperatures, such as by diving into cold water.
The good news: Most ice cream headaches are gone as quickly as they develop.
Symptoms of an ice cream headache include:
- Sharp, stabbing pain in the forehead
- Pain that peaks about 20 to 60 seconds after it begins and goes away in about the same time
- Pain that rarely lasts longer than five minutes
When to see a doctor
Because ice cream headaches quickly go away, there's no need to see a doctor.
Ice cream headaches are caused either by exposing your head to sudden, extreme cold or by having something cold move across the roof of your mouth and the back of your throat, such as when you eat ice cream quickly or gulp a cold drink. Scientists are unsure about the exact mechanism that causes this pain.
One theory is that the cold temporarily alters blood flow in your nervous system, causing a brief headache. Blood vessels constrict to prevent the loss of body heat and then relax again to let blood flow rise, resulting in a burst of pain that goes away once the body adapts to the temperature change.
Ice cream headaches can affect anyone. But you might be more susceptible to ice cream headaches or have more-severe ice cream headaches if you're prone to migraines.
The best way to avoid getting ice cream headaches is to avoid the cold food or drinks or exposure to cold that causes them.
Ice cream headaches don't need treatment. Typically, the pain quickly disappears after the cold food or drink is swallowed.