Why a Daith Piercing Won't Help Your Migraine

A popular, alternative migraine therapy that is scientifically unproven

Daith piercing—a piercing located within your ears' innermost cartilage, just above the ear canal—has received a frenzy on social media for its potential role as an alternative treatment for chronic migraines.

Despite this excitement, it's important to note there is currently no scientific evidence to support daith piercing as an effective migraine therapy.

Instead, information supporting daith piercing is purely anectodal, meaning there are only "stories" of its benefit. Since there are no clinical trials examining daith piercing in chronic migraineurs, experts do not recommend it as a migraine treatment.

Anecdotal Evidence

While there are multiple reports of daith piercing broadcasted throughout various social media platforms such as Facebook, one such "story" was published and detailed in the neurological journal Frontiers in Neurology.

Diving into the details of this case will, perhaps, give you and your loved ones a sense of how disabling migraines are—and why people turn to practices such as daith piercing in their often last-ditch attempt for relief.

In this case study, a 54-year-old man, with a history of chronic migraines without aura and medication overuse headaches, turned to daith piercing after trying several migraine preventive medications.

Trial and Error With Preventive Medications

Some of the preventive medications the gentleman tried included:

  • Topamax (topiramate), an antiseizure medication
  • Elavil (amitriptyline), an atypical antidepressant
  • Inderal XL (propranolol), a high blood pressure medication

While experimenting with these traditional preventive migraine medications (at recommended doses), the gentleman noted only a short-lived (few months) decrease in the number and intensity of his headaches.

Medication Overuse Headache

Like many migraineurs, besides preventive medications, the gentleman also used various painkillers, including triptans and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory (NSAID) drugs, to combat acute migraine headaches.

The gentleman used these acute migraine therapies a lot (up to five painkillers for each attack), and this is what precipitated the development of medication overuse headache, which resembled a tension headache on top of chronic migraine (a double whammy).

Medications That Can Cause Medication Overuse Headaches

Detoxification Treatment

Over the following three years, the gentleman continued on his migraine journey, undergoing several detoxification treatments without any benefit.

Of note, the purpose of a detoxification treatment is to treat medication overuse headache and "de-chronify" migraines. Detoxification, in which a person stops all painkillers, is done under the guidance of a doctor in a headache center or hospital. During detoxification, a person can be safely monitored and receive certain medications (for example, taking intravenous steroids and diazepam) to ease any pain or other medication withdrawal symptoms.

Unfortunately, the detoxification treatments only provided short-term improvement, and the gentleman's headaches returned.

Radiofrequency Ablation and Botox

The gentleman then underwent a radiofrequency ablation of cervical ganglion (nerves in the neck) without improvement. A couple of years later, he underwent a few rounds of Onabotulinumtoxin-A (Botox) treatment but continued to experience headaches (although slightly less in number).

Daith Piercing

The gentleman, on his own, then decided to undergo "daith piercing" on both ears. At that time, he was on aspirin (he had a stroke and was found to have a patent foramen ovale a few years back), Elavil (amitriptyline) for migraine prevention, and up to 15 painkillers a month.

Few Month Followup

Within a few months after the daith piercing, the gentleman noted a small reduction in the number of migraine attacks. He also noted fewer episodes of tension headaches (from medication overuse), and when the tension headaches did occur, they were less disabling. In general, his headaches were also more responsive to medication, each one being treated with only one painkiller.

One Year and a Half Followup

After one and a half years following the piercing, the gentleman reported rare migraine attacks (none in the prior two months), and infrequent and less disabling tension headaches. He reported still taking Elavil for migraine prevention as well as one tablet of Indomethacin to treat each tension headaches, about four per month.

Implications

Despite these astonishing results, the authors of this case study suspect that the positive effect this gentleman noted is primarily due to the placebo effect, meaning the migraine-relief is mainly psychological.

The authors did state, however, that beyond the placebo effect, it's possible that the daith piercing stimulated vagal nerve fibers near the ear, which then altered pain pathways to the brain. But this potential mechanism, which resembles acupuncture to some degree, needs testing in controlled studies of chronic migraineurs.

Besides the unclear "why" behind how daith piercing could possibly ease migraine pain, there are risks involved with undergoing such a piercing. These risks include pain, a slow healing process, a high chance of infection based on the location, and the possibility that migraine symptoms may worsen.

Conclusion

According to migraine experts, including those at the American Migraine Foundation, the risks of daith piercing far outweigh any potential reward. Moreover, like the authors of this case study, the experts at the American Migraine Foundation believe that any results seen after daith piercing are temporary and "attributed to the placebo effect."

What Are the Risks of Having Your Ears Pierced?

A Word From Verywell

Migraines are a debilitating neurological condition that affects 37 million Americans and, unfortunately, current medications used to prevent migraine attacks are either not effective or not tolerated due to their side effect profile.

Due to the time-consuming and frustrating process of experimenting with different preventive drugs, many migraineurs have turned to simpler, alternative therapies (understandably)—and daith piercing is one such therapy.

However, while an attractive option (we all want that "quick fix"), the risks are simply too great at this time to say, "well, I might as well try it." Until the reward of this practice has been proven through controlled clinical trials, it's best to stick with your doctor's advice and move forward with scientifically proven drugs like Botox, traditional migraine preventive drugs, or the new migraine drug that blocks calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP) called Aimovig (erenumab).

Treatments That Can Help Prevent Migraines
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