Heads-up about ice cream headaches

(Provided photo)

Parents have been asking me some painful questions about what to do when their child gets a headache, usually over their forehead after eating ice cream. Since I don’t want everyone screaming for anything but ice cream, let me provide some information on this topic.

What they are

Ice cream headaches are formally known as sphenopalatineganglioneuralgia — but let’s just call them ice cream headaches or a brain freeze. They occur when something cold, like ice cream or a very cold beverage, touches the roof of your mouth. The exact mechanism that makes your head hurt when you eat ice cream is still not known, although it’s felt to be similar to the mechanism that causes migraine headaches. And interestingly enough, those prone to migraines have more ice cream headaches.

Ice cream headaches only last a minute or two, never more than 5, and they go away on their own. They are never dangerous but can be uncomfortable.

What to do

So what can you do about these? One easy thing is to tell your child to eat their ice cream more slowly, reduce how much they eat, or try warming foods up in the front of their mouth before chewing or swallowing.

Another solution is to drink something that is warmer than the cold substance that caused the headache.

Some children and adults tell me they simply put their thumb in their mouth since the thumb’s heat and the added pressure of sucking on that thumb decrease the pain.

You might also cover your mouth with your hands and breathe quickly to trap warm breath and increase the temperature inside your mouth.

If the headache lasts longer than a few minutes, is associated with fever, vomiting, and is not linked to eating or drinking something cold, then speak to your child’s health care professional since these are not likely to be simple ice cream headaches.

Hopefully, tips like these will melt away any concerns you have the next time your child gets a headache while eating ice cream.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of pediatrics at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the department of pediatrics at the University of Vermont’s Larner College of Medicine. You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and NBC5.


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