Use a spoon to avoid ice-cream headache


Drinking an ice-cold smoothie through a straw makes ‘brain freeze’ worse, a doctor has warned, suggesting using a spoon or sipping slowly to avoid the headache

‘Brain freeze’ brought on by eating ice-cream or drinking a smoothie too fast is worse if you use a straw, a doctor has warned. The headache caused by the sudden cold sensation on the roof of the mouth commonly leaves people clutching their foreheads after an icy treat. Dr Amanda Ellison said growing numbers are complaining about the dull throbbing ache in the temple or forehead after drinking smoothies.

Research suggests sucking cold drinks through a straw brings on the pain faster than spooning down lumps of ice cream or biting into a cornet, she
said. It has often been assumed the stabbing pain is brought on by sensitive teeth with the cold treat stimulating temperature controlled nerves as it passes over the gums.


But Dr Ellison, Senior Lecturer at Durham University Psychology Department, says it is all down to the way we hold the straw. She argues the ice cream headache, often called a “brain freeze”, is one of the most commonly misunderstood types of head pain and can easily be

She said: “It is actually referred pain from the roof of the mouth which you feel coming from the temple area of your forehead.

“It usually strikes when people suck cold beverages through a straw, sucking the liquid directly onto the palate.

“The drink doesn’t get chance to warm up before it hits the roof of your mouth.

“The ice cream headache passes quickly with a lovely rush of pain-killing endorphins cancelling out the pain.”

The pain comes on so quickly it is often used in the laboratory as a way of triggering headaches to help investigations into migraines.

But there were simple ways of avoiding the problem in the first place when ordering your ice cold beverage.

“The simplest way when you are drinking through a straw is not to angle the straw in the direction of your palette,” Dr Ellison said.

The trick was to angle the straw so it did not hit the roof of the mouth and send a message to the brain.

Those who remember their manners and eat their ice creams slowly are much less likely to have a problem, she said.

A study presented at a meeting in 2012 carried by a researchers at the National University of Ireland in Galway and Harvard Medical School deliberately induced the brain freeze in 13 healthy volunteers so the effects could be studied.

It was found that the pain was brought on by a rapid increase in blood flow through a major blood vessel in the brain, the anterior cerebral artery.

The ache subsided again once blood flow was restricted. The headaches were induced by drinking iced water through a straw pressed
directly against the palate as Dr Ellison also found. But because the skull is a closed structure, the sudden influx of blood could
raise pressure and induce pain, it was suggested.

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