Daith and tragus piercings are among the most talked about — and controversial — alternative therapies for migraine. Some people believe these cosmetic procedures — which involve piercing a small fold of cartilage near the opening of the outer ear — have benefits similar to acupuncture for migraine pain.
Although there’s no scientific or clinical evidence to support their use as a pain treatment, daith and tragus piercings are a hot topic on social media. Members of MyMigraineTeam who’ve already tried many other treatments consider the piercings a possible remedy for debilitating migraine attacks that affect their quality of life.
“Nothing has helped my chronic migraines. I’ve heard daith piercing might work. If so, where do you get it done?” asked one member, echoing the questions of many others. “I’m trying to understand exactly how daith piercing works, and if it’s a ‘permanent’ form of acupuncture,” said another member. “I desperately want to try daith piercing, but I keep seeing mixed reviews,” said another.
Although there’s no permanent cure for migraine, piercing proponents claim the procedure is a long-lasting pain-relief solution. Like acupuncture — a common migraine treatment — daith and tragus piercings are thought to treat migraine pain by activating specific pressure points in the ear.
Specifically, daith and tragus piercings are thought to activate the vagus nerve, one of many nerves that carry messages to and from the brain. Possible vagal modulation (stimulation of the vagus nerve) interferes with signals to the brain that cause migraine pain. This mechanism is also seen in U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved vagus nerve stimulation devices for treating migraine headaches, which use electric currents instead of earrings or needles to block pain signals.
According to a 2017 study published in Frontiers in Neurology, migraine symptoms improve for some people after a daith piercing but worsen for others. The researchers concluded the treatment could not be recommended without further study. A 2020 literature review in Current Pain Headache Report also concluded that, similar to acupuncture, daith piercings may provide benefit in acute (short-term) and long-term treatment of migraine, but additional research is needed.
Many people living with migraine who’ve undertaken the therapy report dramatic improvement. The 2017 case study cited an anonymous survey of 380 respondents who had daith piercings. About 47 percent reported an initial reduction in migraine frequency after the piercing, and half of all respondents said their attacks became less severe.
Major health care organizations do not endorse daith piercings. The American Migraine Foundation, Cleveland Clinic, and other medical institutions assert there’s no conclusive research to support the claim that daith piercing can help migraine symptoms. Reported benefits are widely believed to be a placebo effect, in which the brain convinces the body that a treatment with no therapeutic value has healing benefits.
MyMigraineTeam member comments generally support those mixed anecdotal findings. “Since my daith piercing three years ago, I’m 98 percent migraine free!” said one member. “My migraines used to cause nausea and temporary blindness. Daith finally stopped those symptoms six years ago,” said another member. An elated member added, “My husband says it was the best money he ever spent … because now we can make plans!”
Some members claim that ear piercings helped them wean off pain medications. “I haven’t refilled my Imitrex (sumatriptan) script since the daith piercing!” Another said, “It has been a year since getting daith and I’m off daily medication. I still get an occasional headache, but nothing like the migraines I had before.”
Others reported that a daith piercing reduced, but didn’t eliminate, their migraine symptoms. “Daith worked for about two months, then I started getting migraines again,” reported one member. Another, whose migraine attacks returned after four months, said, “Now, I get them with the same intensity, but not as frequently as before.” One member added, “It hasn’t reduced the number of migraines, but it has cut their duration.”
Some members said they weren’t bothered that their symptom relief from a piercing might be a placebo effect. “If it’s mind over matter, I don’t mind being migraine-free most of the time. I’ve had only four to five migraines since getting my daith piercing, as opposed to 10 or more a month. I’m saving money on medication, so it wasn’t a waste,” one MyMigraineTeam member said.
Some members have reported zero success with their daith piercing. “I had one side done and it hasn’t helped at all. It was a big waste of money,” said one member. “Mine didn’t help either,” said another. “I only gained ‘cool points’ from my daughter.”
One member shared, “My neurologist warned me not to do it, but I went ahead anyway. It helped for a while. Then the migraines moved to the other side of my head and after two years, I still get drainage and soreness. I wouldn’t do it again!”
As with any body piercing, daith and tragus piercings have risks. Some health experts say these potential risks outweigh the benefits. In one study, up to 35 percent of people with ear piercings had one or more complications. Here are some of the potential side effects of daith and tragus piercing.
Piercing through the cartilage is more painful than through the fleshier earlobe. “I won’t lie, the initial piercing made me swear like a sailor, LOL, but it only lasted for a second,” said one member. “I have 16 body piercings and daith was the most painful,” shared another.
There are many reports of persisting pain, worsening migraine attacks, or slow healing for many months after cartilage piercings. “Mine took about nine months to heal. Hurt like a you-know-what, but it was quick. I highly recommend piercing spray for healing,” advised one member regarding piercing aftercare.
Cartilage piercings become infected about 30 percent of the time, according to ChildrensMD. These infections can spread rapidly and cause permanent disfigurement of the ear if not treated early. Health experts advise cleaning the piercing site several times a day with soap and warm water to avoid infection.
Noninfectious complications are common, such as contact dermatitis (skin rash) from exposure to certain metals, like nickel. “I had to get my earring taken out because I was having an allergic reaction to the metal. Migraines started again,” said one member. “My body rejected the piercing and started pushing the metal right out of my ear,” said another.
Because cartilage piercings are prone to irritation, a bump or keloid (raised scar) can form at the piercing site.
Members who’ve had daith piercings on one or both ears often discuss tips for safe ear piercing for migraine symptoms.
Depending on your ear structure, a daith earring may not fit or could cause problems, some members warned. “I wanted a daith piercing, but have been told my daith (cartilage) is too small,” said one, who was advised to consider a tragus piercing, which occurs in a more accessible area of the ear.
The right piercer is someone familiar with acupuncture points and migraines. “Any old piercing won’t cut it,” said one member. Another said, “I found a gal who trained with an acupuncturist. She was able to find the exact right spot on me, mid-migraine, which stopped it almost immediately.”
Although there’s no data on which ear is more effective, members tend to get pierced on the side where migraines are most prominent.
Because of the long healing period after getting a piercing, members say it’s important to be extra careful while sleeping, bathing, or combing your hair. “My piercer would only do one at a time to leave me a side to sleep on,” reported one member. “Hair can get tangled through the daith hoop and hurts like heck when it’s tugged,” warned another. Other members noted that phone earbuds may not fit or be safe to use after a daith piercing.
Given the potential risks of daith and tragus piercings, it’s best to consult with your neurologist before starting any complementary therapies for migraines. Up to 50 percent of people with severe headaches use complementary and alternative medicine to relieve episodic migraines. Mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, and yoga are the most promising mind/body options, and they may be as effective as medication, according to some research studies.
By joining MyMigraineTeam, the social network and online support group for those living with migraines, you gain a community more than 78,000 members strong. Daith and tragus piercing is one of the most popular topics discussed.
Have you tried a daith or tragus piercing for migraine pain? How has it worked for you? Go to MyMigraineTeam today or comment below and start the conversation. You'll be surprised just how many other members share similar stories.