Feeling a migraine come on is like watching a car wreck in slo-mo. You’re in for a world of hurt, but you can’t do much to stop it. Add in fun side effects like nausea, kaleidoscope vision, sensitivity to all the things — light, sound, heat — and it’s no wonder those with migraine are always on the lookout for a cure.
If you get migraine attacks, you’re probably already stocked up with extra-strength pain meds and prescription drugs. But popping pills isn’t your only option.
Anyone who’s fallen down the rabbit hole of internet armchair experts (we’re looking at you, Reddit) has heard the stories of cartilage piercings — daith and tragus, specifically — curing chronic migraines. But the jury’s still out on proof of these claims.
Wait, what kind of piercing?
Daith and tragus piercings sound straight out of “Game of Thrones,” but they’re actually pretty tame. Your daith is the thick cartilage fold in the center of your ear, just above your ear canal opening. Your tragus is the somewhat triangular cartilage flap above your earlobe (the part you touch when you plug your ears).
Folks who experience migraine have resorted to becoming human pincushions for a long time. That’s because acupuncture, which stimulates specific nerve endings and pressure points, eases pain.
Fans say daith piercings work similarly. The theory is that the piercing puts constant pressure on your vagus nerve, the super long nerve that stretches from your brain to your gut.
Researchers have been looking into this vagus-migraine connection for years. In 2018, the FDA approved a handheld vagus nerve stimulator, gammaCore, for people who get regular migraine attacks. It’s basically a vibrator for your vagus.
Despite internet success stories, there isn’t medical proof that daith piercings cure migraine. Sure, the piercing is near your vagus nerve, but we don’t know yet if it provides enough constant stimulation to make a difference.
Sadly, there hasn’t been much research to support daith piercings treating migraine. In a case study of one person with chronic migraine and tension headaches, a daith piercing did cut back dramatically on the participant’s number of migraine attacks and pain levels. Researchers said they need more clinical trials to prove the connection.
Researchers in another study of headache treatments concluded the same. There just isn’t enough evidence to prove a connection between daith piercings and migraine relief.
Placebo effect, anyone?
The mind is a powerful thing! There’s a lot of research out there suggesting you can trick yourself into thinking something works. TBH, your brain’s so convincing that some placebos actually work for a short time. Maybe daith piercings treat migraine… and maybe it’s the placebo effect.
OK, so doctors are iffy on prescribing daith piercings for migraine. But wait, there’s more! Research does back other remedies.
Recent studies validate centuries of claims that tiny needles make a big difference in migraine agony. It might be because acupuncture affects the pain pathways in your brain.
Research suggests Zenning out helps with headache pain. It could be a good option for chronic migraine, too.
Auriculotherapy is acupuncture or acupressure on your ears. Sometimes practitioners use needles, but it’s also common to use finger pressure or ear seeds.
Some peeps practice auriculotherapy on themselves with magnetic ear seeds (pain relief, but make it fashion!). Research suggests auriculotherapy, when practiced properly, really can relieve pain.
Biofeedback is a mental therapy that empowers you to check in with your body and adjust involuntary functions like heart rate and muscle tension. Sure, it sounds kinda woo-woo, but science backs it up, at least for tension headache relief.
These nutritional supplements might help with migraine pain.
- Butterbur: Sorry HP fans, not butterbeer. Experts say butterbur extract can reduce the frequency of migraine attacks. Just pick one labeled “PA-free” — pyrrolizidine alkaloids are no bueno.
- Magnesium: Studies show that taking magnesium reduces migraine pain levels and frequency.
- Riboflavin: Research suggests popping riboflavin (aka B-2), helps prevent migraine symptoms.
- Ginger: One study of 100 people with migraine suggested that ginger supplements could have the same effect as some prescription migraine pain relievers.
Any time you poke a hole in your body, you risk infections or scarring. Puncturing cartilage comes with a lot more risk than that time you got your earlobes pierced at the mall.
Daith piercings come with several possible complications
- infection, which can lead to sepsis, toxic shock syndrome, or removal of infected cartilage *blech*
- ongoing pain or worse migraine symptoms
Did we mention that daith piercings need to be super precise and can be painful AF? So if you decide to go for it, pick your piercer carefully.
Consider the possibility that it won’t make a difference. Going through one more failed treatment can be heartbreaking when you’re desperate for relief.
Daith piercings take months to heal. Don’t do it if you have hemophilia, diabetes, or an autoimmune disorder that delays your body’s natural healing.
If you decide to move forward with a daith piercing, take our advice:
- Chat with your doctor about alternative migraine treatments and whether this is the best next step for you.
- Research licensed professional piercers in your area.
- Make sure you’re on board with the cost of a professional piercing and the energy to follow aftercare instructions.
- Pick which ear to pierce. Some non-medical sources suggest piercing the side where you get most of your migraine to keep the pressure on that point.
Don’t rule out conventional migraine solutions. Your doctor can recommend one of these common options:
- over-the-counter pain relievers and anti-inflammatory meds
- prescriptions like triptans, ergots, steroids, beta-blockers, and even anti-seizure pills
- prescription injectable anti-migraine medications
There aren’t any studies that prove daith piercings cure or treat migraines. Plenty of people claim they’ve found relief, but medical research is thin. Daith piercings also come with a risk of infection and other side effects.
Before getting your daith pierced, consider other alternative therapies. Acupuncture, meditation, biofeedback, and other remedies are backed by more research.
If you’re dealing with chronic or debilitating migraine, talk to your doctor about your treatment options.