Can Getting a Daith Piercing Really Help Migraine Symptoms?

We're ending this debate once and for all.

From Botox to acupuncture, most people who experience migraines are willing to try just about anything for relief from the pain. So while there are plenty of medications out there to treat migraine attacks (we've all seen the commercials), there always seems to be a new alternative treatment — think meditation and essential oils — gaining buzz.

Enter the highly debated daith piercing, which some say can reduce or prevent symptoms of migraines. You may be wondering: "How can a stylish earring alleviate my migraine symptoms?" and "Does it actually work?"

Well, we consulted the migraine experts to find out if the pain of the cartilage piercing is actually worth it. Read on for the truth about daith piercings for migraines.

What is a daith piercing — and how is it connected to migraines?

A daith piercing is a piercing through the inner fold of cartilage just above the ear canal. Typically, those who receive the piercing wear a hoop or semi-circle earring.

So why is this specific piercing and location rumored to alleviate migraine symptoms? Well, the inner fold of cartilage coincides with a pressure point often targeted in acupuncture given to migraine patients, explains neurologist and headache specialist Deena E. Kuruvilla, M.D., Director of the Westport Headache Institute and executive board member for the Association of Migraine Disorders. So it's believed that when the piercing hits this acupressure point, known as the vagus nerve — similar to how ear seeding and acupuncture work — it can help relieve migraine pain, explains migraine specialist Chris Blatchley, M.D., medical director of the London Migraine Clinic.

So, does it actually work?

People have been getting daith piercings to treat migraines for years now. According to Dr. Blatchley, they originated in 1992 for cosmetic purposes, but people soon started to notice improvements in migraine symptoms. But because of the lack of research on the topic, the perception of daith piercings has been that any reported results are simply a placebo effect, (meaning they are temporary and psychological rather than physical), according to a report from the American Migraine Foundation.

That is, until the world's first medical research on the benefits of a daith piercing for migraines, conducted by Dr. Blatchley, in tandem with the University of Essex, was presented to the Association of Migraine Disorders in September 2021. The small study (26 participants) found that approximately 40% noticed a reduction in pain and other migraine symptoms (like brain fog, neck ache, and visual discomfort), as well as a reduction in days of symptoms one to three months after receiving a daith piercing. Several patients were still reporting changes or a cease in migraines 12 months after the initial piercing. The other 40% recorded that they experienced short-term benefits and the remaining 20% saw no change in their migraine symptoms after the daith piercing.

The key to success, according to Dr. Blatchley is that "the piercing was performed in the correct place so that the vagus nerve was stimulated." This is a big reason why Dr. Kuruvilla recommends migraine patients go the acupuncture route rather than a daith piercing, since they often don't hit the precise point they need to in order to be effective, she says.

Bottom line: The jury is still out since there's very little scientific research out there on the effects that daith piercings may have on migraine patients. What we do know is that a precise piercing is crucial in order to have any benefit, so you should seek out a migraine specialist who offers daith piercings to actually do the piercing.

Ear with daith piercings for migraines
Getty Images

Should I get a daith piercing?

That depends on who you ask. Overall, the experts in the field seem divided on whether a daith piercing is a worthwhile treatment option.

Dr. Blatchley suggests that his migraine patients try it if they're curious (which is why he offers the treatment in his clinic). There is no guarantee it will work — after all, 60% of the people in his study didn't notice any long-term benefit — but it's relatively inexpensive and low risk, he says. After all, you can always remove the piercing if there is no effect or it has difficulty healing, he adds.

On the other hand, despite having some patients report benefits, Dr. Kuruvilla (as well as the American Migraine Foundation) believes that the risks outweigh any benefit. "I have seen [the piercing] become easily infected, and at times, has resulted in a visit to the emergency room for urgent antibiotic treatment," says Dr. Kuruvilla.

Instead, she recommends integrative medicine using vitamins and minerals, magnesium, and riboflavin, which have been studied and found to be effective for those with migraines. Acupuncture has also been studied for migraine relief and may prove to be more effective at hitting those acupressure points with the help of a professional.

The bottom line? If you're someone who frequently experiences migraines or migraine attacks and you're hellbent on finding a solution, a daith piercing could potentially provide some relief — but at this point, there isn't much concrete evidence to back it up. And, there is always the chance of infection, so be aware the pain might really not be worth the gain. If you do want to try it, don't head to your trendy local piercing studio. Instead, seek out a migraine specialist to perform the piercing.

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