Friday, March 15, 2002

Why Do I Get A Headache When I Eat Ice Cream?

I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream. Ouch! Some of us scream more than others. The University Creamery is a summertime hot spot , but for some people eating ice cream can be a painful experience. The ice cream headache or brain freeze as it is some times called occurs in about one in three people when they eat cold foods like ice cream or popsicles. The headache typically lasts from 15-30 seconds, but for some unlucky people the suffering can last up to five minutes.

You can't blame your mint chocolate chip because it's not the ice creams fault. Located on the roof of the mouth, near the back, there is a nerve center. Its job in part is to control the temperature of your brain. Like the thermostat in your house, this nerve center senses the temperature and can turn the heaters on or off. When the Peachy Paterno contacts the roof of your mouth, it cools down the nerve center making it think that your brain is dangerously cold.

The nerve center's thermostat reacts by turning the heaters on full blast. Blood vessels (tiny tubes that carry blood all over your body) in your head dilate or swell with extra warm blood that was meant to heat your brain. The extra pressure on your blood vessels causes the painful headache. Even though we call it brain freeze, the brain really isn't involved at all. The medical term for an ice cream headache is spheno palatine ganglioneuralgia. The condition is caused by a constriction in the blood vessels supplying the brain that lie just above the palate area.

The simplest way to avoid a brain freeze is to not put anything cold against the roof of your mouth. Let the food warm up a little in the front of your mouth before swallowing it down.

If you still end up with an ice cream headache there are several solutions you can try. The most common solution is to warm up your nerve center again. Pushing your tongue or your thumb against the roof of your mouth (and towards the back) will reheat the nerve center and turn off the headache. Other cures include: placing an ice cube against your inner wrist, eating a pinch of salt, and bending over to put your head below your heart.

Now you know how to beat that butterscotch, but you'll probably have to wait for summer to try it out. That's because most people don't get ice cream headaches unless the weather is warm. Good luck.