The Science Behind Why You Get An Ice Cream Headache

There's nothing quite like a scoop of ice cream to cool you down during the dog days of summer. Even when it's not hot outside, a cone or cup is a joy to many, though some ice cream flavors are more beloved than others. As great as ice cream is, it does sometimes come with a rather unpleasant side effect: the ice cream headache. This sudden and sometimes intense pain also known as a brain freeze can make one swear off the cold stuff, at least until it passes and they go back for another bite. As it turns out, there's a very simple science behind brain freezes, and it has to do with your nerves.

Humans have blood vessels running along every part of our bodies, including the roof of our mouth and our throat. According to Harvard Medical School, when we consume something cold like ice cream or a frozen drink, the blood vessels in our mouths quickly shrink up and then return to their normal size. Our brain is alerted to this contraction via pain receptors, and even though the sensation is technically coming from the top of our mouth, the brain interprets it as a head pain instead. Thus, the ice cream headache takes hold.

How to get rid of an ice cream headache

It's possible that you're part of the small percentage of people that don't get ice cream headaches. But fortunately for fans of the frozen who do, brain freezes are completely harmless and typically only last a few minutes or less.

Everyone has their own method to relieve brain freezes with varying levels of success, but there are a few tried-and-true techniques for the next time your Rocky Road bites back. Since the phenomenon is caused by blood vessels in the roof of your mouth constricting after getting too cold, most people agree pressing your tongue or finger to the roof of your mouth should warm everything back up and ease the pain. Drinking room temperature or warm water can also get the blood flowing again.

Of course, one of the best ways to alleviate a brain freeze is to prevent it in the first place. This can be done by enjoying your cold snack slowly and taking sips of water between bites. It can be difficult to exercise patience when indulging in such a delicious dessert, but if it helps us eat more ice cream in the long run, we think it will be worth it.