Brain Freeze

Overview

What is a brain freeze?

Brain freeze is a brief but intense pain in the front part of your head. It occurs when you eat, drink or breathe something extremely cold, such as:

  • Freezing air.
  • Frozen or slushy drinks.
  • Ice cream.
  • Ice cubes.
  • Ice pops (popsicles).

A brain freeze is sometimes called an ice cream headache, a cold-induced headache or a cold stimulus headache. The scientific term is sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.

Who is at risk for getting ice cream headaches?

Anyone can get a brain freeze. Children may be more likely to get brain freeze because they may not have learned to slow down when eating something fun like an ice pop.

Some research has shown that sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia is more common in people who get migraine headaches.

How is brain freeze different from other headaches?

Unlike other headaches, a brain freeze comes and goes quickly. It usually lasts only a few seconds to two minutes. It goes away on its own, without medicine or rest.

Other headaches can cause other symptoms. For example, a migraine can make you feel sick to your stomach (nausea). Some headaches can make it hard to tolerate bright light or loud noise. A brain freeze does not cause any other symptoms.

Symptoms and Causes

What causes brain freeze?

When your body senses sudden, extreme cold in the mouth or throat, it tries to react and warm up. Blood vessels throughout the head expand to let extra blood into the area for warmth. That quick change in blood vessel size causes sudden pain.

Management and Treatment

What can I do to make a brain freeze go away?

If you get an ice cream headache, try to get the temperature of your mouth and throat back to normal:

  • Stop eating or drinking the cold item, or get out of the cold.
  • Drink a warm or room-temperature liquid (not cold and not hot).
  • Press your tongue or thumb against the roof of your mouth to transfer warmth.

Prevention

What can I do to prevent brain freeze?

The only way to prevent brain freeze is to avoid sudden, extreme temperature changes in the mouth, throat and head. For example:

  • Avoid freezing food, drinks and air.
  • Eat and drink very cold things slowly.
  • Use a barrier against cold air, such as a scarf or face mask.

Living With

Should I seek medical attention for brain freeze?

You don’t need medical attention for a brain freeze. But if you get frequent headaches that last a while, talk to your healthcare provider.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

A brain freeze can be painful, but it’s not serious and goes away on its own quickly. You can prevent ice cream headaches by avoiding very cold foods, drinks and freezing air. If you get a brain freeze, try pressing your thumb or tongue against the roof of your mouth. Or drink something warm or room temperature.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/15/2021.

References

  • Bird N, MacGregor EA, Wilkinson MI. . Headache. 1992; 32(1):35-8. Accessed 2/18/2021.Ice cream headache—site, duration, and relationship to migraine (https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/1555929/)
  • BrainFacts.org. Accessed 2/18/2021.What Causes Brain Freeze? (https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/diet-and-lifestyle/2019/what-causes-brain-freeze-071819)
  • National Headache Foundation.Accessed 2/18/2021. Scientists Study Brain Freeze to Better Understand Headache. (https://headaches.org/2012/05/15/scientists-study-brain-freeze-to-better-understand-headache/)

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