Biology / Science

Ice cream headache

I planned this week’s post before it cooled down here, but it’s still a nice summery topic!

What causes ice cream headache?

If you’ve never had one, well, you may be able to produce one through experiment: get you to an ice cream van and tuck in! (Or just put an ice cube in your mouth, perhaps.) Make sure the cold slides across the roof of your mouth towards the back of your throat… OW!

That throbbing stabbing pain that concentrates in your forehead is an ice cream headache, and actually, I can’t tell you exactly why it happens. One theory, according to the Mayo Clinic, is that the cold causes the sudden constriction of blood vessels, followed by their sudden relaxation to ensure the blood is flowing. Pain receptors then pick up on this activity, and shoot a message along the nerve fibres that alert you to pain in your face. (Hence why you feel it in your forehead!)

Vasoconstriction is one of the body’s ways of controlling its internal temperature: when it’s cold (or all the time, if you have Raynaud’s disease like me!), your blood vessels constrict so that your blood is no longer as close to the surface of your skin. That helps preserve the warmth in your blood, which can otherwise be carried off by exposure to the environment.

Image from Khan Academy showing how vasoconstriction works to preserve body heat

So it makes sense that that would be happening in your mouth when you consume something cold.

Buuut Mayo Clinic do say that’s only a theory. I think it needs more testing.

To the freezer!

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