Migraine headaches are a common health problem in the United States. However, many people do not receive satisfactory treatment or preventive care for these headaches.
While medication is often the primary treatment option for migraine, many people pursue alternative therapies.
Some of these alternative treatments include meditation, acupuncture, and, more recently, ear piercings.
In this article, we discuss daith and tragus piercings as treatments for migraine headaches and pain. We explore the reasons that these piercings might help, the scientific evidence behind them, and possible adverse effects.
When problems with the vagus nerve are responsible for migraine headaches, tragus or daith piercings may help. The vagus nerve is long, and it branches into several parts of the outer ear, including the daith and the tragus.
Researchers are currently exploring vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) as a possible treatment for a number of medical conditions, including:
- chronic inflammatory disorders
VNS is also an emerging treatment for migraine headaches — it may prevent them from occurring or relieve ongoing pain.
Many people believe that, by stimulating the vagus nerve, tragus and daith piercings could help relieve migraine pain and prevent the headaches from developing.
However, evidence that either type of piercing can address migraine pain is mainly anecdotal.
Some people who experience the pain on one side of the head report benefits from having the piercing on the same side. Yet no scientific evidence supports these claims.
The use of cartilage piercings as a migraine treatment appears to have stemmed from acupuncture. Acupuncture is a form of Chinese traditional medicine that involves inserting needles into specific points on the body to treat various health conditions.
Some people view daith and tragus piercings as more permanent forms of acupuncture because they involve the same points that acupuncturists stimulate when treating migraine pain.
Tragus and daith piercings are novel treatments for migraine headaches and pain.
The daith is a fold of cartilage above the ear canal. The tragus is the triangular piece of cartilage below the daith, to the side of the opening.
Piercing either area involves inserting a needle through the cartilage and placing a stud or a hoop through the hole.
It is difficult to tell how effective daith and tragus piercings are as an alternative treatment for migraine pain. This is due to a lack of high-quality, large-scale studies on the subject.
Most evidence for this treatment comes from case studies or firsthand accounts. For instance, in 2017, researchers in Italy published a case report involving a 54-year-old male with recurring migraine and tension-type headaches.
The person had tried various medications and detoxification treatments to relieve symptoms. He had also tried radiofrequency ablation, which involves using electrical stimulation to decrease pain signals. None of these methods provided significant benefits.
According to the report, the man decided to opt for a daith piercing as a possible treatment. Within months, he experienced a significant reduction in the frequency and severity of his migraine headaches, and the benefits lasted for at least a year and a half, when the doctors submitted their paper.
While a lack of studies have investigated daith and tragus piercings, a growing body of research suggests that acupuncture could help treat migraine and headache disorders.
In one 2016 Cochrane review, researchers analyzed the findings of 22 trials that collectively included 4,985 individuals to look at the effects of acupuncture on migraine prevention.
The authors found that acupuncture led to a slight but significant reduction in migraine frequency, compared with sham acupuncture treatments and no treatment.
Daith and tragus piercings have the potential to cause mild to severe adverse effects, involving:
- incorrect placement of jewelry
- allergic reaction to jewelry or piercing equipment
- nerve damage
- worsening migraine symptoms
All body piercings present at least some risk of bleeding, infection, and other adverse effects.
People can minimize the risk by getting their piercings from licensed professionals and keeping their piercings clean and dry — especially while they are healing.
Discuss hygiene and reducing the risk of infection with the person performing the piercing. Piercers should be using needles and jewelry made from surgical-grade stainless steel, due to its low nickel content.
Nickle is the most common trigger for people with metal allergies. Anyone with a nickel allergy may decide to wear only gold, titanium, or stainless steel jewelry.
Nearly 80% of people living with migraine or headache disorders have used complementary or alternative therapies for their symptoms, according to the American Migraine Foundation.
Daith and tragus piercings have risen in popularity as potential new treatments for migraine and other headache disorders.
However, there is little scientific evidence that these piercings have the desired effects.
A growing body of research, meanwhile, suggests that acupuncture can help treat various chronic pain conditions, including migraine. Anyone considering a daith or tragus piercing may want to try acupuncture first.
If a person responds well to acupuncture for migraine, they may benefit from a daith or tragus piercing.
As with any potential treatment, it is important to carefully consider the risks. Body piercings can cause infection, bleeding, and scarring.
There is also the risk that symptoms will continue or get worse after a daith or tragus piercing. Without high-quality research, it is difficult to predict treatment outcomes.