Do You Scream, "Ice Cream Headache!"?
What do you know about the type of intense headache you get after you eat something really, really cold, like ice cream?
Ah yes. The "ice cream" headache -- that blinding pain that suddenly slams into your head over your eyes and sinuses. Of course, you don't need to be eating high-fat ice cream to experience this agonizing phenomenon. An icy smoothie or fruit sorbet can trigger the reaction just as easily.
There isn't much literature on ice cream headaches. What we do know we owe to Dr. Robert Smith, an ice cream headache sufferer himself. He experimented with bits of crushed ice placed in different parts of his mouth to try to understand what caused the headache. It turned out the effect occurred only when the ice touched the back of his palate, apparently stimulating the spheno-palatine ganglion, a nerve center that controls blood flow to the head. When the cold hits, the nerves cause blood vessels in the head to swell. That dilation of arteries is the immediate cause of the pain.
Fortunately the reaction is usually over pretty quickly -- in 30 to 60 seconds -- although the headache can last as long as five minutes. Try warming the roof of your mouth to quiet the nerves. Or if you're really suffering, fight cold with cold: Put a little ice to your head. This should get those blood vessels to stop dilating. Interestingly, Dr. Smith could stimulate these headaches only on hot days. He also noticed that migraine sufferers tend to get them more easily than other people. He links the two -- partly because they both come on very suddenly. Other people say there's no connection at all. I'm not apt to take sides and make this into a cold war. I'd just say do your best to avoid them.
If you want to enjoy chilled things on hot days, remind yourself to take it easy on your hard palate -- that spot in the middle of the roof of the mouth. Try to minimize prolonged or frequent contact with anything very cold there. Keep cold foods more on the sides of your mouth, and if you do feel the start of a headache, wait awhile and let your tongue warm the hard palate up a little bit. You can usually prevent any suffering by pacing yourself. Oh, and by the way -- it's a good idea to minimize your consumption of ice cream. The combination of sugar and fat is very seductive, and such foods are big contributors to obesity. Not only that, but butterfat is the most saturated of all the animal fats, worse for your coronary arteries than beef fat. So go easy.