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Do daith or tragus piercings help with migraines?

Medically reviewed by Sally Chao, MD. Last updated on Nov 10, 2021.

Official answer

by Drugs.com

Daith and tragus piercings are popular mentions among online forums as unconventional treatment options for migraines. However, although some migraine patients say the piercings are an effective way to relieve migraine symptoms, there is no scientific evidence in support of these claims.

Some migraine patients have reported reduced pain during migraine attacks after getting a daith or tragus piercing, which are placed in the outer cartilage of the ear.

  • Daith piercings are located on the smallest fold of cartilage in your ear, called the crus of the helix, right above your ear canal. You can get a daith piercing in both ears, or in just one ear.
  • Tragus piercings are located on the small flap of cartilage that covers part of your ear canal. Similar to daith piercings, you can get tragus piercings in both of your ears, or on just one side of your head.

It’s postulated that migraines caused by vagus nerve issues can be alleviated by these piercings because the vagus nerve extends into the daith and tragus. Still, it’s important to note that no scientific evidence is available to support the claims that daith or tragus piercings alleviate migraine pain.

Potential risks of daith and tragus piercings

There are potential risks associated with daith and tragus piercings, which are typically done by placing a thin needle through the cartilage and inserting a stud or hoop earring into the hole. Because ear cartilage is small as well as curvy, it can be challenging to pierce. What’s more, recovery can take a long time—up to several months. If not properly cleaned, it’s easy for the wound to become infected, and the piercing itself can be quite painful. There is also a possibility that the piercing worsens migraines, or that the jewelry may be placed incorrectly.

Sometimes, an allergic reaction to either the piercing needle or jewelry itself may occur.

Additionally, you may experience these complications:

  • Infection
  • Pain
  • Bleeding
  • Swelling
  • Scarring
  • Itching
  • Tenderness
  • Traumatic tearing
  • Nerve damage

Why daith and tragus piercings might work for migraines

In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) cleared vagus nerve stimulation (VNS) as an acute or abortive treatment for migraines. Research suggests that VNS works to decrease the pain of a migraine because the vagus nerve is thought to help modulate the brain’s headache pain pathways.

The daith and tragus piercings are placed on what’s considered to be particularly effective pressure points that help to minimize migraine headaches because the vagus nerve branches directly into these areas. It is theorized that piercings located in these pressure points can therefore help to ease migraine pain.

Does acupuncture for migraines help?

Another therapy involving needles that has been studied in the treatment of migraines is acupuncture. Acupuncture involves the insertion of tiny needles into specific pressure points in your body based on the condition being treated. Although the exact mechanism by which acupuncture alleviates migraines is unknown, it is thought that it may activate brain pathways responsible for shutting down pain.

Research indicates that acupuncture can be helpful in alleviating migraine pain. In fact, a 2016 systematic review of 22 clinical trials in the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews found acupuncture to be moderately effective in the treatment of headache disorders such as migraine. But, no such scientific research has been conducted that supports the claims of daith and tragus piercings as viable migraine treatments.

The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health notes that the relief effects from acupuncture may be due to beliefs and a placebo factor.

Alternative treatments for migraines

In addition to VNS and acupuncture, other alternative treatments may be helpful in managing migraine symptoms. For example, studies point to biofeedback-based techniques as a useful migraine treatment option. Massage, spinal manipulation (chiropractic), tai chi, meditation and other relaxation techniques may be helpful as well, but research is ongoing. Limited evidence points to coenzyme Q10, feverfew, magnesium and riboflavin as supplements that might help reduce migraine symptoms.

References
  1. American Migraine Foundation (AMF). Can You Treat Migraine with an Earring? Available at: https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/daith-piercings-101/. [Accessed October 17, 2021].
  2. Bhandari P, Ranjit E, Sapra A, Davis D, Brenham C. Daith Piercing: Wonder Treatment or Untested Fad? Cureus. 2021 Feb; 12 (2): e6978. https://dx.doi.org/10.7759%2Fcureus.6978.
  3. Verma P, Sandhu HK, Verma KG, Goyal S, Sudan M, Ladgotra A. Morphological Variations and Biometrics of Ear: An Aid to Personal Identification. J Clin Diagn Res. 2016 May; 10(5): ZC138-ZC142. https://dx.doi.org/10.7860%2FJCDR%2F2016%2F18265.7876.
  4. Saito M, Arakaki R, Yamada A, Tsunematsu T, Kudo Y, Ishimaru N. Molecular Mechanisms of Nickel Allergy. Int J Mol Sci. v. 17(2); 2016 Feb. https://dx.doi.org/10.3390%2Fijms17020202.
  5. Meltzer DI. Complications of Body Piercing. Am Fam Physician. 2005 Nov 15; 72(10): 2029-2034. https://www.aafp.org/afp/2005/1115/p2029.html.
  6. American Headache Society (AHS). Vagus Nerve Stimulation for Migraine and Cluster Headache (2021). Available at: https://americanheadachesociety.org/news/vagus-nerve-stimulation-for-migraine-and-cluster-headache/. [Accessed October 17, 2021].
  7. Schiapparelli P, Allais G, Rolando S, et al. Acupuncture in primary headache treatment. Neurol Sci. 2011 May, 32 Suppl 1: S15-8. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10072-011-0548-x.
  8. Hendrik DJ, Henssen A, Derks B, et al. Vagus nerve stimulation for primary headache disorders: An anatomical review to explain a clinical phenomenon. Cephalalgia. 2019 Aug; 39(9): 1180-1194. https://doi.org/10.1177/0333102419833076.
  9. Linde K, Allais G, Brinkhaus B, et al. Acupuncture for the prevention of episodic migraine. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016 Jun; 2016(6): CD001218. https://dx.doi.org/10.1002%2F14651858.CD001218.pub3.
  10. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH). Headaches: What You Need to Know. August 2021. Available at: https://www.nccih.nih.gov/health/headaches-what-you-need-to-know. [Accessed October 17, 2021].

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