Ice Cream Headache

Ice Cream Headache

Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralagia.

An Ice Cream Headache is a nerve pain in the sphenopalatine ganglion.  But what actually is an Ice Cream Headache , what causes it, and what relief is available? In an episode of ‘The Simpsons’, Doctor Hibbert set up an Ice Cream Headache casualty tent at a large gathering in which Ice Cream was being served. He administered an Ice Cream Headache cure comprised of pumping hot fudge up the nose. KCS Advice has been unable to establish whether this is a reliable cure for an Ice Cream Headache or whether the process is itself safe. This was the same episode in which Homer’s extra tall Ice Cream came into contact with an overhead electricity cable and electrocuted him. An Ice Cream Headache is sometimes known as a ‘cold stimulus headache’ or a ‘Brain Freeze’. The scientific name for the disorder is Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralagia. The same effect is caused by any cold food, beverage or lollipop although an Ice Cream Headache is more likely with ice cream or thick milk shake. The cold ice cream lingers longer on the surface to which it is applied. Ice Cream’s bulk and density makes it more capable of absorbing the heat from the nervous system, causing the Ice Cream Headache to develop.

ice cream Ice Cream Headache Causes and History

An Ice Cream Headache is caused by the cold substance touching the roof of the mouth and extracting the heat causing the blood vessels to swell and constrict in rapid succession. The cold sensation is transmitted from the roof of the mouth to the head. Some people are immune from experiencing an Ice Cream Headache. Most bodily responses have some form of evolutionary origin. For example we are fearful of heights because it helps us avoid falling off cliffs. So people who are afraid of heights are more likely to live and have children who inherit their traits. It is not however clear what advantage an Ice Cream Headache ever gave to man’s ancestors but it is possible that deep in pre human evolutionary history there was some advantage to be gained from avoiding ingesting very cold substances. Frost free brains work better than frozen ones and ingesting large amounts of very cold food can be fatal.

The term ‘Ice Cream Headache’ goes at least as far back as 1937. But ‘Brain Freeze’ as a way of describing an Ice Cream Headache is much more modern. Before 1991 it was more likely to be used as a term, to mean freezing someone’s brain in the hope of waking it up again in the distant future.

An Ice Cream Headache occurs when a cold substance is eaten or drank too quickly. It’s most usually experienced when a substance of the consistency of ice cream is applied to the roof of the mouth in sufficient quantities to extract enough heat. An Ice Cream Headache is more common in children, than in an adult, partly due to the fact of the difference in proportion of the size of the mouth pallet to the amount of ice cream applied to it and because of the inability of child to dissipate the cold quickly from the roof of the mouth. The severity of the Ice Cream Headache is also partly determined by the development of the nervous system which the sudden drop of temperature affects. A child’s is smaller in relation to the amount of Ice Cream applied to it. In addition muscles in the face generate heat which is a valuable defence against the Ice Cream Headache. A child has much smaller facial muscles than (say) a grown athletic young man. Also children swallow the Ice Cream faster which allowing it to affect the entire head rather than part of it.. Usually the Ice Cream Headache takes about ten seconds to develop and about 20-40 seconds to dissipate. However the severity varies significantly from person to person and is some people an Ice Cream Headache can last for some time.

An alternative theory as to the cause of an Ice Cream Headache is ‘the Cerebral Arterial Theory’. In this theory the Ice Cream Headache is caused by increased flow of blood through the brain. The extra blood flow increases the size of the artery and the pain persists until the artery contracts again in a self defence mechanism to prevent the pressure become intolerable and dangerous. If this theory is correct there is a possibility that an Ice Cream Headache could be a signal of danger in some people as it is quite likely that some will have an inadequate response mechanism.

Ice Cream Headache Remedies

The best way to avoid an Ice Cream Headache is to consume the product more slowly to allow the palate to acclimatise to the lower temperature. The Ice Cream Headache usually affects the side of the head where the palate is chilled or if a large amount of very cold ice cream is swallowed it can affect the whole head. As the Ice Cream Headache is the result of the extreme cooling and warming up again of the sinus capillaries, a similar effect can be observed in the flushing of the face on a cold day. In the case of the Ice Cream Headache the pain receptors send signals to the brain through the trigeminal nerve which is the major nerve in the face area. This nerve also senses facial pains which are an important sensory function. The brain believes that the pain is coming from the forehead. The way the process works has some similarities with migraine.

An Ice Cream Headache however doesn’t last long enough for a pain killer to be effective. Some people say that relief is obtained  by breathing through the mouth to circulate warm air and some tilt their head back for ten seconds with the tongue pressed against the roof of the mouth. A warm drink usually suffices although by the time you boil the kettle the Ice Cream Headache may have gone. Another rumoured cure for an Ice Cream Headache is blowing a Hair Dryer into the mouth.

Ice Cream Headache Fatalities

In 1892 a Chicago hotel employee died after he ate a large amount of ice cream which ‘froze his stomach’. This story, on the face of it at least, appears to be true although the diagnosis may have been wrong. But a more recent Ice Cream Headache story may not be so reliable. In July 2013 the ‘Rock Times’ (Arkansaw’s self styled ‘second most unreliable news source’) reported that a local woman had died when her ‘brain overheated’ in an Ice Cream Shop. The news source reported that she had bought a waffle cone and suffered a fatal Ice Cream Headache after she started eating it. She felt the effect but wouldn’t stop eating and ended up flat in her back on the floor covered in Ice Cream.  But most Ice genuine Ice Cream related deaths can be traced to poisons in the mix or being run over by the Ice Cream Van.