I scream, you scream, we all scream for . . . ow!
That cone of vanilla fudge swirl has done it again: the sweet treat has quickly given you a bad headache. But don’t blame the butternut crunch or punish the pistachio quite yet. It’s not the ice cream’s fault. Instead, it’s the roof of your mouth, your nerves, and your blood vessels (blood vessels are tiny tubes that carry blood through your body) that are to blame!
Here’s the scoop on what happens. When you eat or drink, food or liquid touches your palate (say: pah-lit) before you swallow. Your palate is also known as the roof of your mouth. You can feel your palate by using your tongue to feel the top of the inside of your mouth.
When something very cold touches the center of the palate, the cold temperature can set off certain nerves that control how much blood flows to your head. When that taste of triple-chocolate brownie sets off the nerves, the nerves respond by causing the blood vessels in the head to swell up. This quick swelling of the blood vessels is what causes your head to pound and hurt. Some people call this a “brain freeze,” even though nothing is really happening in the brain – it’s all in the blood vessels of the head.
And ice cream isn’t the only food that can make your head hurt! Anything that’s very cold, like ice pops, slushy frozen drinks, and even cold soda, water, milk, or juice can make the blood vessels swell.
A headache from ice cream or another cold food usually lasts about a minute or so, although it can feel much longer! This kind of headache almost never lasts more than 5 minutes, and it goes away on its own. And although you may feel pain, it’s not dangerous and doesn’t mean that anything is wrong in your body.
Want to lick your ice-cream headaches? Some doctors say that simply eating cold foods more slowly can help prevent brain freeze. You can also try warming foods up a tiny bit in the front of your mouth before swallowing them. But if you just can’t eat that banana split slowly and start to feel a headache coming on, you may be able to slow it down by holding your tongue against your palate. This will warm up your palate a little and you’ll be ready for your next bite of banana split in no time.