Why do some people get a headache when they eat ice cream or when they drink something very cold? An ‘Ice-cream headache’ — also called ‘brain freeze’ — is a real condition. Actually the scientific name for it (yes that right there is a scientific name) is Sphenopalatine Ganglioneuralgia.
Lets start by looking at the makeup of your face. There a lot going on here. You have all of your major sensory organs crammed all in the one place and they are all situated close to your brain. This is really handy as it creates short paths for communication but it also means that they all feed into the same major nerves and blood vessels that lead into your brain. This can lead to a lot of crossed wires and over stimulation. Over stimulation of one sensory organ can actually cause another sensory organ to trigger. This is why bright light can sometimes make you sneeze or a plucked nose hair can make your eyes water. Its also what causes the brain freeze.
The brain freeze will often occur when you ingest a whole of of something that is really cold, like ice cream, too quickly. The pain is usually experienced on the mid-frontal area of your head, but it can be on just one side near the temples, or behind the eyes. Only rarely is the headache felt on the back of the head. This stabbing or aching pain will often last about 10 – 20 seconds and start to fade away, but it can sometimes last for up to five minutes with some people.
When cold matter hits the top of your mouth and the back of your throat it shocks the one thing that you really do not want to shock. The place where two of your brains main blood suppliers meet. The Internal Carotid Artery and the Anterior Cerebral artery. When the junction of these arteries get too cold they start to rapidly contract resulting in your brain sending extra blood there to try and warm them up again. All this contracting and expanding triggers pain receptors and even though the pain actually occurs at the base of your brain it is usually felt in the forehead or behind the eyes. This is because the pain signal shoots up the biggest nerve in your head, the Trigeminal nerve and you feel the pain in a different place. This is another case of cross wiring by the close proximity of sensory organs with your brain.
So whats the cure. well there is no cure but if it does happen to you, simply drink some warm water. As soon as it warms up again you are ready to chow down again.