Getting Ahead of Headaches

During the course of a year, about 90% of men and 95% of women will experience at least one headache. Even the thought of having a headache can be very concerning for those who regularly experience this type of head pain. Fortunately, there are some types of headaches that disappear almost as quickly as they develop; one such type of headache is the cold stimulus headache.

What Is a Cold Stimulus Headache?

People are probably more familiar with this type of headache when it is referred to by its more common names; the terms ice cream headache and brain freeze are often used to describe a cold stimulus headache. Although eating ice cream is a typical trigger, quickly drinking or eating other cold items can lead to the same unpleasant result. As well, if someone’s unprotected head is suddenly exposed to cold temperatures, as would happen if an individual takes a plunge into cold water, this type of headache can occur. Even inhaling very cold air may provoke a cold stimulus headache.

What Are the Symptoms?

Someone experiencing a cold stimulus headache will feel pain in the forehead that is sharp and stabbing. This pain does not persist for a long amount of time; it is rare for it to last more than five minutes. People generally find that, once the pain begins, it will peak in about 20 to 60 seconds, and in about the same amount of time, it will have gone away. In fact, by the time a person has thought, “I don’t want this headache, and I don’t even want a headache near me,” that person’s pain might have already disappeared.

What Is the Cause?

The specific mechanism responsible for the cold-induced pain remains unknown. One possible explanation is that blood flow is temporarily altered by the cold temperature. To prevent the body from losing heat, blood vessels constrict before relaxing to allow an increase in blood flow; a brief burst of pain occurs, but it dissipates once the body has adapted to the change in temperature. Being prone to migraines may increase a person’s susceptibility.