Cause and frequency
An editorial was published in the British Medical Journal on ice cream headache; it referenced several articles on the effect of rapid consumption of cold foods or beverages. It has been studied as an example of referred pain, an unpleasant sensation localised to an area separate from the site of the painful stimulation.
The effect occurs when something very cold, such as ice cream, touches the top palate in the mouth. The blood vessels constrict due to the cold. This makes the nerves send a signal to the brain to open blood vessels. But this rapid opening of the blood vessels makes fluid back up in the tissues that won't drain for thirty seconds to a minute. This causes a slight swelling in the forehead that causes pain.
It has been estimated that one in three people experience an ice-cream headache from consumption of ice cream. Some studies suggest that it is more common in people who experience migraines; other studies have shown the opposite. Experiments have shown that frozen yogurt, which will generally maintain a more liquid state than traditional ice cream at lower temperatures, will trigger this condition in test subjects more readily than dairy ice cream, cold drinks or ice. Food Detectives, a Food Network show that investigates food myths, dedicated half of a 30 minute episode to find out what causes and how to prevent, if at all possible, an ice-cream headache. At the end of the episode, they commented that the best way to prevent one is to take your time when eating something cold. Pressing the pad of your thumb firmly against the roof of your mouth is also said to work.