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Ear Piercing for Migraines: Truth or Myth?

If you suffer from migraines, you are likely willing to try anything that may help stop them. You may also have pierced another part of your body and are wondering what the big deal is about getting one more piercing. But is piercing for migraines the answer? While it has gained popularity in recent years, there is little scientific evidence that piercing offers real, long-term relief from migraines.

Symptoms of migraine

Migraines are far more painful than a regular headache, and they are one of the most common medical conditions in the world. Migraines are intensely painful and can bring your daily activities to a grinding halt. 

Migraine headaches are a medical condition that affects more than 36 million adults. The third most common illness in the world, migraines cause excruciating head pain, typically on one side (although both sides can also be affected). Symptoms frequently experienced during a migraine include nausea or vomiting; dizziness; changes in vision such as blind spots or flashes; and strong sensitivity to light, sound, and smells. In addition, some people also experience an aura with a migraine, where they see lights or experience momentary blindness. These usually happen up to an hour before the migraine begins.

If you’ve had a migraine, you know it is much more than a headache. With the large number of symptoms they bring, migraines can have a debilitating effect on daily life. More than 90 percent of people who experience migraines are unable to continue their daily activities when one hits. Migraines can be a part of regular everyday existence and potentially shut down all activities, sometimes for days. Anxiety and difficulty sleeping are common for those who experience migraines. Migraines impact women far more than they do men. Migraines tend to peak during your 30s and gradually become less severe and less frequent as you age.

Can ear piercing mitigate migraine pain?

So what does piercing your ear have to do with migraine pain? Why the ear instead of, say, the nose? Getting a piercing in your ear for migraines may seem strange, but many people in recent years have been trying it to relieve their migraines. 

The idea is that piercing the same spot on the ear previously treated in acupuncture would bring a constant pressure and alleviate migraine pain.

Ear piercings for migraines and anxiety are done on very specific locations on the ear. The reason is related to acupuncture. This Chinese practice involves inserting small needles into various places in an effort to relieve pain and improve a variety of health conditions. There are specific points on the ear, two in particular, that are known to relieve migraine pain. 

Some people who have found acupuncture helpful but wanted a more permanent solution have turned to ear piercing. The idea is that piercing the same spot on the ear previously treated in acupuncture would bring a constant pressure and alleviate migraine pain. Practitioners of this approach believe they have fewer migraine episodes and fewer migraine symptoms overall.     

What kind of ear piercing is believed to relieve migraine pain?

The specific location is critical when trying piercing for migraines. A regular earlobe piercing is not believed to work as well. There are only three spots that are believed to work on migraines, and both are located close to the inner ear.    

Daith piercing for migraines

Daith piercings are probably the most well-known type of inner ear piercing for migraines. This piercing is done on the innermost fold of cartilage directly above the opening to your ear canal. This spot is also used in acupuncture to treat migraines. It is a very small spot and can be difficult to pierce. Once pierced, the area can take a long time to heal and is prone to infection.

When it comes to daith piercing for migraines, there are no findings that a piercing on one side is better than the other for relieving migraine pain. 

Tragus piercing for migraines

Tragus piercings are done on the piece of cartilage that reaches over the entrance to the ear canal. As with daith piercings, tragus piercings are thought to bring relief to people with migraine headaches.

Rook piercing for migraines

The spot for a rook piercing is in the top ridge in your ear, directly above where a daith piercing would be done. Unlike its cousins, the daith and tragus piercings, rook piercings are not thought to relieve migraine pain.

The longest cranial nerve, the vagus nerve also sends messages regarding pain to different parts of the body. Although studies have yet to show any evidence that they relieve pain, many people have turned to daith, rook, or tragus piercings to alleviate migraine pain. 

All three kinds of piercings carry risks. They are done on cartilage, which involves more pain and a longer healing time. There are also possible side effects associated with these piercings, including:

  • Pain
  • Bleeding 
  • Nerve damage
  • Allergic reaction to piercing materials
  • Viral or bacterial infection, including tetanus, hepatitis, and HIV

What the research says about ear piercing for migraines

The science about using piercings to relieve migraine pain is very limited, and the evidence is mostly anecdotal. More research needs to be done to determine if ear piercing can be a legitimate treatment for migraines.  

Although people have reported that a piercing has alleviated their migraine pain, those results may be caused by the placebo effect.

Although people have reported that a piercing has alleviated their migraine pain, those results may be caused by the placebo effect. The placebo effect is when a person believes a treatment will work and then actually experiences relief. It is usually short-lived, however. One study followed a single patient who experienced relief from migraine pain after a daith piercing but concluded that more research needed to be done. According to the American Migraine Foundation, ear piercing should not be considered a viable treatment method for migraines. 

Migraine treatment options

Additional remedies for migraine treatment include practicing yoga or meditation, using essential oils, making dietary changes, and using conventional treatments such as over-the-counter pain relievers.    

The takeaway

Before using ear piercing as a form of migraine treatment, talk to your doctor. You can also consider speaking with an acupuncturist. They may have other suggestions about treatment options that would be best for you. No research yet exists that proves that daith, tragus, or rook piercings help alleviate migraine pain. Still, the decision to pierce or not to pierce is yours. Before you decide, consider the risks and weigh them against any potential benefits, as ear piercing is just one option for treating the chronic pain of migraines. 

https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/daith-piercings-101/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5711775/

https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/migraine-headache/symptoms-causes/syc-20360201

https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-3-319-91491-6_19

https://migraineresearchfoundation.org/about-migraine/migraine-facts/

https://migraine.com/migraine-statistics/

https://www.britannica.com/science/vagus-nerve

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