Can a Daith Piercing Cure Migraines?

·8 min read
Can a Daith Piercing Really Prevent Migraines?
Can a Daith Piercing Really Prevent Migraines?

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Jillian Bershtein, 44, was diagnosed with migraines when she was in her twenties. She knows one's impending when she feels a twinge in her neck, when she looks at a lightbulb and the light "looks like it's trickling down," when she's on her period, or when there's going to be inclement weather. "From there it just becomes what you think is a dull ache, and then it ramps up really quickly," says Bershtein. "Then I need a dark room, silence, and medication."

Bershtein says she's tried nearly everything to treat her migraines, including a daith piercing. The piercing — which is located just above the ear canal through a small fold of cartilage where the outer ridge at the top of the ear and the inner ear connect — has gained popularity in recent years in no small part thanks to the theory (key word!) that it can treat these throbbing terrors of a headache. (Related: How to Tell the Difference Between a Headache vs. Migraine)

The notion that a daith piercing can treat, and even prevent, migraines can be linked back to the internet, where a claim that there's an acupuncture point in the same spot as the daith first surfaced. ICYDK, acupuncture is a common treatment for migraines. So the belief is that "wearing an earring in your daith provides constant compression to that pressure point, which many believe can relieve pain," according to the American Migraine Foundation. The theory soon spread like wildfire on social media and was, in the AMF's words, "popularized on Facebook and Pinterest."

But as with so many things online, you (and so many migraine sufferers) can't help but ask, "is the claim legit?" and "does a daith piercing really work?"

Can a Daith Piercing Treat a Migraine?

"A daith piercing has not been shown, scientifically, to be helpful in preventing [or treating] migraines," says Rashmi Halker Singh, M.D., a board-certified headache medicine neurologist and associate professor of neurology at the Mayo Clinic. "Some people might have a temporary benefit, a placebo effect, but there's no long-lasting benefit from doing a daith piercing for migraines. It's a defunct myth." (Related: Does Green Light Therapy Actually Relieve Migraine Pain?)

Bershtein was told as much when she went to her local professional piercer, who asked her if she was getting the piercing for migraines. "I said yes, and he said he was just going to give me a full disclaimer that there's no evidence it works; he's happy to pierce me, but it's not an end-all, be-all treatment," she shares.

Paul Fox, a professional piercer at True Expression in New York City, gives his clients the same disclaimer when they ask for a daith piercing in hopes of treating migraines. "I tell every single client that I'm not a professional medical doctor," says Fox, who has been piercing professionally since 1999. "I tell them I will place and make the daith piercing look perfect, and that it's going to be beautiful and the jewelry is going to be high quality because that's just what we do, but I am not curing anything."

Even still, Fox says he has clients who report back post-piercing, claiming that it helps; "And who I am to say it didn't work for them?"

Anecdotally, the piercing does seem to provide relief for some people. In these cases, this may be a placebo effect — a phenomenon in which if you believe something is going to help you, it likely will — or the piercing may stimulate the nerves in the ear, inhibiting neurons in a pathway involved in pain perception during migraines, according to a report in Frontiers in Neurology. And yet, even the idea that a daith piercing could be similar to acupuncture is unfounded, says Dr. Halker Singh. "Acupuncture has been shown to be helpful for migraines, and that is definitely something that patients do find helpful, and [neurologists] will refer people to acupuncturists as well," she adds. "But a daith piercing isn't acupuncture. It's something completely different."

At its most basic, acupuncture involves penetrating the skin with fine needles to stimulate different points that are thought to relate to certain body parts. A piercing, on the other hand, is the practice of using a needle or needle gun to create a hole in one specific part of the body. And even if the goal is migraine relief (versus, say, just getting some edgy ear jewelry), a piercer won't necessarily hit the "very precise" spot where the purportedly helpful acupuncture pressure point is located, according to the AMF. (Related: Why You Should Try Acupuncture — Even If You Don't Need Pain Relief)

What You Should Know Before Getting a Daith Piercing

Like any cartilage piercing, daith piercings can take a while to heal — around nine months, says Fox. He adds that daith piercings should be done with rings instead of barbells, as the bars tend to "flip and create more issues," (think: snagging on clothing and taking longer to heal). They should also be pierced with thicker jewelry rather than a thin ring so the weight of the jewelry can be evenly distributed. (The thicker the jewelry, the more comfortable the weight will be hanging from your ear. A gauge of 16 to 18 is the standard size for a daith piercing, according to tattoo and piercing supply wholesaler Monster Steel.)

A positive? Since daith piercings are somewhat sheltered inside your ear, they're more protected from accidental bumps or snags that might happen with other piercings on the outside of your ear, says Fox. That said, daith piercings do come with a "considerable risk for infection," according to research.

If you're pierced by a professional who's knowledgeable and uses the correct size jewelry, you should only have soreness in the area for about 48 hours, says Fox. Piercer requirements vary by state, but the Association of Professional Piercers's "find a piercer" tool can be handy if you're hoping to find someone qualified in your area.

Bershtein says that her daith piercing seemed to give her temporary relief eight years ago. "I got pierced and had one week of discomfort at the piercing site," she says. "And for that one week, I didn't have any migraines." Since then, however, she says she has had "a million" migraines, and both the frequency and intensity of her migraines went "exactly right back to where it was" prior to her piercing.

Is There a Cure for Migraines?

"A migraine is a neurological disease," explains Dr. Halker Singh. In simplified terms, "it ultimately changes the whole pain processing pathway in the brain." She says at least 1 billion people in the world have migraines, making it an extremely common condition globally. (Related: I Suffer from Chronic Migraines — Here's What I Wish People Knew)

Despite its prevalence, however, there's currently no "cure" for migraines, though researchers are closer to finding one than ever before, says Dr. Halker Singh. In fact, "2018 was a big year in the migraine treatment world because for the first time we [had] FDA-approved preventative treatments for migraines that are based on our understanding of migraine pathophysiology [what happens within the body that leads to migraines]." That year, the Food and Drug Administration approved three migraine-specific treatments: Terenumab (Aimovig), fremanezumab (Ajovy), and galcanezumab (Emgality) — all of which are considered preventative medications as they can help reduce the frequency, severity, and length of your migraines, according to the Mayo Clinic. In 2019 and 2020, the FDA approved pain relievers ubrogepant (Ubrelvy) and rimegepant (Nurtec), which stop migraine pain within two hours of taking in roughly 20 percent of patients, according to Science News.

Still, if scientists are going to find a cure for migraines, Dr. Halker Singh says there needs to be more money spent on funding for research. "Despite the fact that it's such a common disease with such a high disability associated with it, there's really a lack of funding to fund research," she says. "So that's a little bit of a disconnect."

In the meantime, Dr. Halker Singh hopes to see a broader community awareness of migraines, including people's understanding of what they are as well as the signs and symptoms so they can make time to see a doctor, especially since more and more preventative treatments are becoming available. Case in point? Just last month (September 2021) the FDA approved another preventative migraine medicine known as Qulipta.

"Things are changing all the time," says Dr. Halker Singh. And, as evidenced by the past years' advances in migraine meds, the range of potential treatments is hopefully going to continue to grow.

As for the daith piercing? It may not be a legitimate migraine treatment, but one thing is for certain: It'll look cute!