The scoop on ice cream headaches

August 5, 2011 2:12:13 PM PDT
Chances are, it has happened to you - the so-called "ice cream headache". Also called a cold stimulus headache, it does not just happen from cold ice cream. It could also be caused by cold air on a winter day.

Dr. Larry Newman, who is the director of the Headache Institute at Roosevelt Hospital in Manhattan, says that the pain starts when cold food or liquid hits the back part of the roof of your mouth.

"When there's rapid cooling of this area, all the nerves are there, they get stimulated, and they cause the blood vessels around the brain and in the brain to suddenly dilate. Which is why you get this intense pain in your eye, in the front of your head or in the temple," Dr. Newman said.

The brain freeze can happen to anyone, but Dr. Newman says that it may happen more often if you suffer from migraines.

For some people like 18-year-old Forrest Wise, ice cream can actually trigger a migraine.

"When I eat ice cream in general, it happens a lot. My head starts to throb; I end up having to lie down," said Wise.

He has had to cut back on the cold treat, but not completely.

"I generally don't eat a lot of ice cream. I can't help myself I really like it," added Wise.

However if you are not willing to give up your ice cream or gelato, the good news is that you don't have to.

"If you're going to eat an ice cream cone, rather than taking big bites, lick the cone," instructs Dr. Newman.

Also, if you are using a spoon, don't put it in the back of your mouth where the sensitive nerves are.

"Put it in the front of your mouth, let it warm up for a second, and then swallow it. Don't swallow the spoon, swallow the ice cream," adds Dr. Newman.

"It only happens if you have it really fast - I generally tend to savor my ice cream," said Tryon.

Yona Levy, the co-owner of Screme Gelato Bar in Manhattan also has a tip.

"Suck your thumb. It works every time," Levy said.

The theory behind that tip is that your thumb is warming the palette, as well as warming the nerves, and trying to stop the signals from going to your brain.