Ice cream headaches
Also called Brain Freeze, I remember from my childhood that almost every time my brother ate ice cream or an iced lolly, he would complain loudly of a sudden pain in his head. I however, seemed to be able to shovel ice cream in my mouth with no problem at all. So what is it?
What does the science tell us?
More formally called a cold stimulus headache, sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia or trigeminal headache, it’s thought to be due to cold food or drink contacting the roof of the mouth or back of the throat. This causes sudden constriction of blood vessels here, which then rapidly dilate, resulting in pain in the forehead or both temples, lasting less than five minutes 98% of the time. What’s actually happening is thought to be that pain receptors near the blood vessels sense and send a message of the discomfort along tiny nerve fibres to the larger trigeminal nerve, which forwards it to the brain. The trigeminal nerve also carries pain signals from the face. The fact that the brain reads the cold-stimulus sensations as coming from the head rather than the mouth is a phenomenon called ‘referred pain’.
Do they affect everyone the same and are they harmful?
In terms of why my brother got them and I didn’t seems to be explained by the view that cold-stimulus pain is thought to occur in 30 – 40% of people who don’t usually have headaches.
The symptoms are harmless and not a sign of any underlying disease. Some experts believe they’re more common in people who get migraines.
Can they be treated?
Because ice cream headaches are so short-lived, they’re hard to study, and there’s no consensus on how to stop them.
People may have their own methods; A common one is to press your tongue or your thumb against the roof of your mouth. Drinking warm water can help too. The best way to prevent the headache is to eat very cold foods slowly.
The sugar headache
Of course, it’s not possible for me to write a blog about eating ice-cream without pointing out that it is generally loaded with sugar. An adult is advised to have no more than between 4-6 teaspoons (tsp) of added sugar each day, which is a maximum of 25g. Some of the ice creams served though, even kid-sized, contain far more than this.
As an occasional treat, especially on hot summer holidays, this shouldn’t be too much of a problem for your child’s teeth or waistline.
Some tips to help cope with sugary intake:
- Try getting your child to drink plain water after any sugary snack, rinsing round their teeth in the process
- Neutralise plaque acid that may form after sugary food by eating a small piece of cheese
- Wait for approx. 30 minutes after eating sugary food before cleaning teeth. Acids in the mouth from eating sugary or processed snacks leave your teeth vulnerable. If your teeth have been exposed to acid (which they have after eating something sweet) the very top layer becomes soft and can be scrubbed away by a toothbrush
If ice-cream is a more regular treat, it may be worth trying some of the sugar-free alternative products out now, using sweeteners instead. However, whilst these may offer a more tooth-friendly solution and are often reduced calorie, they usually contain sugar alcohols, which can apparently increase blood glucose levels in diabetics. They may also lead to feeling unsatisfied, therefore trigger consuming increased amounts.
My own personal approach is to go with traditional (unhealthy) versions, but minimise the frequency. And follow up with the tips I mentioned above to minimise the negative impact to teeth. Afterall, summer ice creams are one of life’s simple pleasures and it would be a shame to deny that.
Buddies toothpaste promotes oral hygiene for all, breaking down barriers to oral health at www.buddiestoothpaste.com