Summer Marks Height of Ice-Cream Headache Season

It sneaks up on you, arriving 25 to 60 seconds after you swallow that first bite of ice cream. You can feel it coming, but you’re powerless to stop it. When it hits, the skin temperature on your forehead falls by almost two degrees. Then, just as the pain slams into your forehead and reaches its eye-watering peak, it subsides and is quickly gone.

You’ve just been the victim of an ice-cream headache.

Usually lasting between a few seconds and a minute, ice-cream headaches – yes, that’s the actual medical term for them – affect one-third of people. But although they’re common, not much is known about them.

“We know that ice-cream headaches are triggered when a cold food or drink hits the roof of the mouth, but it’s not definitely known why that causes pain,” says Dr. David Roby, a neurologist at Temple University Hospital. “The general belief is that the sudden change in temperature causes an overstimulation of the central nervous system.”

According to Roby, ice-cream headaches are essentially miniature migraine headaches. In fact, people who get migraines are particularly vulnerable to ice-cream headaches.

“Migraine sufferers are sensitive to environmental stimuli such as light, sound and temperature,” Roby says. “About 93 percent of people who get migraines do experience ice-cream headaches and only 30 percent of people who do not get migraines experience ice-cream headaches.”

Although ice-cream headaches can occur any time of year, they are more apt to strike during very hot weather or when a person is overheated. That, and the fact that more ice cream is consumed in hot weather, makes summer the height of the ice-cream headache season.

Roby’s advice on how to avoid an ice-cream headache? “Eat slowly.”

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Further information:

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