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Can You Cure Killer Headaches With Ice Packs?

Did you know that there could be a scientific explanation for why ice packs work to overcome killer headaches? TRP ion channels respond to cold.
Can You Cure Killer Headaches With Ice Packs?
Jack russell dog very sick and ill with ice pack or bag on head suffering hangover and headache resting on bed

There was a time decades ago when people treated really bad headaches with ice packs. Those were the days before Advil & Motrin IB (ibuprofen) and Aleve (naproxen). It was before triptan-type migraine medicines like frovatriptan (Frova), rizatriptan (Maxalt), sumatriptan (Imitrex) and zolmitriptan (Zomig). People with killer headaches used what was available and ice seemed to help, for reasons no one understood. One reader shared this story about the value of ice:

Q. I just finished reading your column about a man with a headache and I laughed. I rarely get headaches any more but recently I had a headache for two days. I tried several ways to alleviate it and finally I was desperate enough to put a plastic bag full of ice on my forehead. That was the cure, just like his!

A. We suspect that many severe headaches are triggered by a complex series of neuronal pathways involving transient receptor potential (TRP) channels (ACS Chemical Neuroscience, Aug. 20, 2014).

Such TRP channels are sensitive to changes in temperature. That may explain why ice can be helpful.

Ice Cream for Killer Headaches:

young woman enjoying an ice cream bar

Some people find that inducing an ice cream headache by consuming ice cream or icy beverages (Frappuccinos or slushies) can interrupt a migraine. We believe this probably operates through TRP channels as well.

Stories from readers:

Raindrop in Maryland discovered this quick fix for killer headaches:

“I eat a 6oz cup of sorbet most every night and have random headaches which I realized, coincidentally, disappeared after a couple spoonfuls. A tasty fix!”

Eunice in Idaho came up with a cool trick:

“I rinse fresh grapes and freeze while still wet. One small hand full of frozen grapes slowly chewed is great for headaches.”

Laurie from Pt. St. Lucie, Florida has an amazing killer headache story to share:

“I read your article on “brain freeze” a few days before I woke up with a migraine. I only wake up with a migraines and have never had one during the day. As a result, I don’t have any warning and begin vomiting within 5-10 minutes. Usually I can’t keep any medicine down long enough to take effect.

“My husband quickly got me some ice cream. It’s not as easy as it seems to create brain freeze intentionally! Heavenly hash IC with almonds and chocolate chunks made it difficult, I think. But just holding it in my mouth to the roof and back of the throat WORKED!

“I kept at it for about 5 minutes or so and then took ibuprofen instead of my migraine meds. That is how I stopped this migraine from progressing. I was able to go to work on time, without a headache and not nauseated. Worth a try for anyone! Thanks for the tip!”

See Our Video About Brain Freeze in Action:

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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