A special type of daith ear piercing for migraine has been circling in the press and social media as a potential treatment. The Huffington Post, Daily Mail and even beauty publications are talking about this alternative potential treatment for migraine.
But does it really work? When it comes to getting all the facts, it can be difficult separating hype from reality.
Here’s what you need to know about daith piercing for migraine
A daith piercing is a piercing located in the innermost cartilage fold of the ear. It’s a specific type of piercing in the ear cartilage midline toward the front of the ear (see image). This type of piercing has been done for thousands of years, but can be quite painful due to the bony cartilage and care is required to keep it clean and prevent infections.
The name of this type of piercing is only thought to have begun in the 1990’s. (1)
As many of us with migraine know, when traditional approaches for treatment fail we often turn to complementary alternatives.
Acupuncture is a common alternative approach. There are a few theories as to how the daith piercing may help those with migraine.
Dr. Chris Blatchley from the London Migraine Clinic suggests that the daith piercing might be effective is because the piercing point is through the area “innervated by the cutaneous afferent branches of the Vagus Nerve which travel centrally to an area close to the trigeminocvervical complex”. Dr. Blatchley admits that the neuroanatomy of the vagus nerve is anything but simple.
Others claim the daith piercing is effective because it occurs on the same pressure point on the ear that is used by acupuncturists to treat migraine.
Acupuncture for migraine
There are at least 22 trials have investigated acupuncture in treating migraine. 6 trials have looked at adding acupuncture to an existing treatment regime. The findings showed those who had acupuncture had fewer headaches.(2)
14 trials compared true acupuncture to placebo or fake acupuncture treatments where needles were inserted superficially and did not penetrate the skin or at incorrect points. In these trials both groups had fewer headaches than before treatment, but there was no difference between the effects of these two treatments.
In 4 trials where acupuncture was compared to a proven medicinal treatment, participants receiving the acupuncture treatment reported a noticeable improvement in their condition and fewer side effects.(2)
Medical reviews suggest acupuncture for migraine holds little risk but the true clinical efficacy remains unclear despite extensive research. Whether these benefits translate across to a piercing in a pressure point location is another matter entirely.
To date no publication has interviewed a qualified acupuncturist to discuss this growing trend. Until now.
What do the experts think?
Dr Chris Booth is a nationally accredited acupuncturist with several practice locations around NSW, Australia. In our discussion he raised a few interesting points:
- The upper insertion point of the Daith piercing seems to correspond with the large intestine point used in Chinese auricular acupuncture. Large intestine channel points are often selected for the treatment of headache and migraine, and other forms of head pain, due to that channel’s pathway across the face, however the large intestine ear point is not one commonly used for these complaints.
- There are other points on the ear which are more important for the treatment of migraine.
- Other points near the Daith piercing location target the small intestine, appendix, mouth and esophagus – similarly, none of which have a particular affinity with the head or migraine.
- The location of acupuncture points on the ear are very specific. If the piercer was intending to pierce one of these points, they would really need to know how to accurately locate the point.
- Would there be any issue with having a permanent structure, or hole, at the site of an acupuncture point? Dr. Booth responded “I can’t say for sure, but there are plenty of examples of traditional techniques for altering the tissues at the site of a point. These include scaring the point by cutting, burning or chemically irritating the site with herbal pastes. These techniques would leave a permanent scar over the point.” (3)
Dr. Booth concluded that for those considering a piercing for the treatment of migraine his suggestion would be “to try some ear acupuncture from a qualified acupuncturist at the site first. Sub-dermal studs can be left in place, over the course of a few weeks, and would be a good way to test whether this is going to be an effective treatment for you.” (3)
Dr. Thomas Cohn, a US board certified interventional pain doctor says that “some people with Daith piercings have coincidentally found improvement with their migraine headache. It is not universal, and it has not been studied formally.”
He also goes on to say that the correlation is based on the success for some people with acupuncture in the same region of the Daith piercing.
If you’re sitting on the fence then Dr. Cohn suggests try visiting an acupuncturist to check if targeting that area helps with your migraine attacks. If it works, then it could be worth getting the piercing.
Dave Kurlander, owner of the Tempest Artistic Studio, NY performs the daith piercing for clients and is a big supporter. He said “it’s essentially the same concept as acupuncture… I recommend getting it done on the ear that corresponds with the side of your head where most of your migraines hit.”
He says “in the long run it’s a toss up, it may not cure your headaches but you will be left with an ear piercing. Hey, you win some you lose some right?”
Simon Evans, CEO of Migraine Action (a former national charity in the UK) said:
“We are always pleased when people gain some measure of relief from their migraine. Unfortunately, what works for one person can make the condition worse in others, so we have to treat the daith piercing with a degree of caution, especially in these very early days after the procedure has been done”.
“We would highly recommend that all migraine patients continue with the treatment that has been prescribed by their medical professional.”
James Cottril, patient expert, blogger and advocate for over 25 years wrote an article titled: “Why you should ignore the ‘daith piercings for migraine’ hype”.
After doing his own research and writing about it he was left “spectacularly unimpressed” and encourages others to “use up your mental and emotional energy, and money, on something that has some good evidence behind it. And if you really like the look of a daith piercing – go for it, but realize it actually could give you a headache. At least for a while.”
Whilst the evidence remains unclear, a number of anecdotal success stories have been voiced on social media like Twitter and Facebook.
Get access to MigrainePal’s research with over 1,100 daith piercings for migraine. Is it effective?
“I think it’s a bit like everything else we read or hear, someone I know got rid of the migraines when he/ she changed their diet, or only drank water, or eats 5 bananas every day (yes I have heard that one)… For some people, yes it may have an effect, for every one, no. I don’t have any food triggers, and only drink water. But my triggers are everything else, not enough sleep, too much sleep, bad sleep, low blood sugar, wind, cold temperatures and warm temperatures. Sunlight, sharp lights in general. Noise. Stress. I get a migraine just going to my mailbox if the weather is just right for it.” – Inge S
“The thing with this is that it’s on a pressure point. If you walk into any regular piercing parlor and get a Daith piercing, that doesn’t mean it’s going to help your migraines. You need someone who knows what they’re doing when it comes to piercing AND pressure points. That way, they can put it in exactly the right area.” – Emma A
“I have horrible migraines and I’m currently taking 5 medications to help with them. I am willing to get this piercing to see if it works so I can get rid of all these medications. And if it doesn’t work I’m ok with it because I’ll have a new piercing Each person is different what might work for one person might not work for another.” – Roxann G
“They compare it to acupuncture for migraines. They stick the needles in the same place as the piercing. There are no studies. Some say it works 100%. Others say they had a headache til it healed then migraines were gone. Others said it didn’t work. I’ve read a ton on it. So, honestly, I have no idea if it depends on the person, placing of piercing, or placebo.” – Lauren E
“As cool as this sounds it is bull*%&# I have it pierced on both ears and have for almost 7 years and I still get really bad migraines.” – Bliss H
“I got it done. It didn’t help. The pain from the piercing radiated into my jaw and it took over six months to heal. Never again, no thank you.” – Michelle M
Doctors and specialists can’t really confirm whether this does or doesn’t work because there aren’t any medical studies or clinical trials for it (know a researcher in need of study topic?).
There are a few considerations you should be aware of before getting a new piercing.
Things to consider
- Piercings are typically less than $100 so this could be an economical treatment alternative if it works.
- The precise position is an important factor in the results you receive. Your acupuncturist may be able to test this, recommend someone, or mark the spot for an accurate piercing.
- Anecdotal feedback suggests you pierce the ear on the side where you most often experience your migraine attacks.
- Like many other treatments for migraine, what really helps for one person could potentially make things worse for another. Until clinical evidence emerges it will be an individual choice based on a ‘less-than-informed’ decision. If you enjoy piercings then this may be an easy decision.
- Beware of the “honeymoon effect”. This is a term often used to describe a patient’s first experience with a new treatment. After very encouraging and positive initial results for the first few months some patients may relapse into their old migraine pattern. The “honeymoon” period wears off and represents the placebo effect which is powerful itself. But not before everyone has been told how great this new treatment is. Are we simply hearing from everyone in their honeymoon phase on social media?
- How many people who try the piercing and within the first few weeks get out on social media to share how great it is, only to find a disappointing return to the status quo a few months down the track. Natalie Thompson is one person who tweeted “39 days and counting since my last migraine” but has since admitted that it has not eliminated her daily headache pain.
- There are definitely more established and proven treatments with clinical evidence to support their efficacy. Here are several proven options for migraine prevention >>
Ultimately the choice is yours. If you decide to try it, make sure you’re working with a qualified professional who knows what they are doing. A temporary stud from an acupressure expert may be a safe way to test for the first few months with someone who can accurately position. If successful then you can switch to a more permanent solution.
The last thing you need is an infected ear right on a potential migraine headache pressure point.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments below 🙂
Get emailed a free copy of the daith piercing community poll results.
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Read part 2) Daith piercing poll results (n=1,107)
To see the results from hundreds of migraine patients with a daith piercing. Read part 2) of the Daith article here >>
- Dr. Thomas Cohn. ‘Migraines and Daith Piercings’. http://mnphysicalmedicine.com/2015/03/02/migraines-and-daith-piercings/ Accessed 17 Nov 2015.
- Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, Manheimer E, Vickers A, White AR. “Acupuncture For Migraine Prophylaxis”. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2009, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD001218. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD001218.pub2
- Dr Christopher Booth. Notes from personal interview on Daith piercings as a migraine treatment. www.acupuncturesydneyclinic.com.au Accessed 18 Nov 2015