Medical Definition of Ice cream headache

  • Medical Author:
    William C. Shiel Jr., MD, FACP, FACR

    Dr. Shiel received a Bachelor of Science degree with honors from the University of Notre Dame. There he was involved in research in radiation biology and received the Huisking Scholarship. After graduating from St. Louis University School of Medicine, he completed his Internal Medicine residency and Rheumatology fellowship at the University of California, Irvine. He is board-certified in Internal Medicine and Rheumatology.

Reviewed on 9/7/2018

Ice cream headache: A headache that occurs when one puts ice, a cold food or chilled beverage in the mouth. Ice cream is by far the most frequent offender. The headache occurs regardless of whether or not the individual suffers from other types of headache, such as migraine.

Ice cream headache is characterized by a stabbing, aching pain that begins a few seconds after ingestion of something cold. The pain peaks in 30 to 60 seconds. It is usually located in the midfrontal area (in the middle of the forehead) but may be in the temporal or retro-orbital region (behind the eye). The headache may be accompanied by a toothache. The pain rarely lasts for more a few minutes, if that long.

No treatment is required for an ice cream headache and it is not necessary to stop eating ice cream. The headache can be "headed off" by keeping cold foods and icy beverages away from the back of the palate (the roof of the mouth). The pain of an ice cream headache is a form of referred pain. It is referred from palate where it is triggered to the head and sometimes the teeth. An ice cream headache is also called a brain freeze.


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Reviewed on 9/7/2018