Ice cream headaches

Why does your head hurt when you eat cold food?

Summertime, sunshine and ice cream. What a life! If it weren't for the ice cream headache that comes with every spoonful... In our health tip, we explain whether "brain freeze" is dangerous and how to avoid this stabbing pain in the forehead.
On a hot summer day, cool refreshments are a real treat. But as soon as the ice cream or iced tea with ice cubes enters your mouth, you feel a sharp pain in your forehead. This can happen on one or both sides and rarely lasts for more than a minute. The pain is usually of medium intensity. "Its frequency decreases with age – so young people are more likely to suffer from ice cream headaches. But it doesn't seem to matter how much or how little ice cream you actually eat," says Silke Schmitt Oggier, Medical Director at santé24.

What causes brain freeze?

It's important to say straight away that brain freeze is neither dangerous nor harmful. "Two recent studies show that ice cream headaches are not caused by cooling of the blood. Instead, receptors in the mouth's mucous membranes are irritated by the rapid cooling of the mouth," explains Silke Schmitt Oggier. These are the only receptors in the body that can detect cold. When they register that you are eating cold food, they send a signal to the blood vessels in the brain. Whether these widen or narrow, however, is not yet conclusively known. Interestingly, patients who suffer from migraine or tension headaches are also more susceptible to ice cream headaches.
Young people are more likely to suffer from ice cream headaches. Dr Silke Schmitt Oggier, Medical Director at santé24

How can brain freeze be avoided?

Ice cream headaches are like allergies. If you experience them frequently, it's best to steer clear of the trigger (i.e. ice cream, drinks that are too cold, etc.). There's certainly no need to take painkillers. They do no good here, especially since these headaches generally go away quite quickly.

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In the event of further health-related questions, SWICA customers can contact the santé24 telemedicine service free of charge on +41 44 404 86 86. A telemedicine practice licence allows santé24 physicians to provide additional medical services in cases that are suited to a telemedicine approach. SWICA customers can also use the BENECURA medical app to carry out a digital SymptomCheck and receive recommendations about what to do next. During a subsequent phone call with santé24, customers can decide for themselves whether to release their information from SymptomCheck to santé24.