Debunking the myth of daith piercing

There’s a lot of buzz on social media about a rather unconventional treatment for migraine. Some patients are choosing to treat migraine by ear piercing. More specifically, a daith piercing, which is a piercing of the innermost cartilage fold just above the opening to the ear canal. The theory is that an acupuncture point located here, when pierced, produces the same pain relief results as acupuncture.

Backstory

In mid-2015, “A ‘Piercing’ New Alternative for Migraine Relief” was published on a student-run website, The Purchase Journal(ism). It cited no studies or clinical data to support the idea that a daith piercing was effective or safe. The article quoted a nurse practitioner from a local neurology clinic and the owner of a tattoo parlor who offers ear piercing services. There is not a single piece of evidence from a board-certified headache specialist. In my opinion, this article is a poorly-researched “puff piece” that makes a mockery of true migraine research studies. A journalism student should know better than to rely on such weak sources.

Trending

Unfortunately, sensational quick fixes tend to spread like wildfire. Daith piercing is no exception. Desperate for relief, some migraine patients have jumped at this slim chance. Facebook and Twitter groups have sprouted up in support of this “treatment.” I’ve been tagged in articles referencing daith piercing several times by well-meaning friends and loved ones. I’ve received messages from patients who chose to get this piercing. They claim it has reduced the headache pain of migraine. Interestingly, I have yet to hear from anyone who has experienced long-term (greater than 6 months) elimination of migraine symptoms. It is not uncommon to experience a strong placebo effect from any new treatment. This effect wears off over time, so it can take several weeks or months to actually see the true results of a treatment. I am confident that daith piercing is no different.

Acupuncture link

Part of the appeal, I believe, is that this option is presented as an inexpensive alternative to acupuncture. The trouble with this claim is that it is not widely supported by practitioners of Traditional Chinese Medicine. Although treatment of the ear is common in acupuncture, there is no acupuncture point in the innermost fold just above the ear canal opening. It is also unlikely that anyone offering ear piercing is well-trained enough in TCM to correctly identify an acupuncture point. If one did manage to pierce through an acupuncture point, that piercing is more likely to permanently damage the acupuncture point rather than stimulate it in a healthy way.

Caroline Urquhart Adams of Left Hand Community acupuncture has this to say about daith piercings,

“Contrary to what you might have read on the internet, it’s at least 1 cm away from ‘Point Zero’ that regulates homeostasis in the body…An additional concern is that a piercing of this magnitude could well destroy the acupuncture points that we’re trying to effect.”

What the experts say

Neither the American Headache Society or the National Headache Foundation have endorsed or recommended this piercing as a treatment for migraine. I consulted with a board-certified headache specialist about this issue. Dr. Dave Watson confirmed that there are no scientific studies supporting the use of daith piercings as a treatment for migraine. He has the following tip for anyone considering such a piercing,

…if you are looking for effective treatments for migraine, unless you have been through the 100+ preventive treatments listed in this article (which would take more than 25 years) – Migraine and Headache Prevention – So Many Options, giving each of them a fair trial, you might want to think again.

My view

About half the people in the U.S. who experience migraine have never even talked to their doctor about their symptoms. I really hate the idea that people might jump at the idea of an ear piercing when they don’t have a confirmed diagnosis and haven’t even tried the most basic medical treatments. Migraine is a serious, genetic, neurological disorder with no known cause or cure. To trivialize it by suggesting that a simple ear piercing solves the problem is insulting to millions of patients who try countless treatments and still don’t find relief. This fad does more harm than good by perpetuating the myth that migraine is “easy to treat.”

Sources:

Left Hand Community Acupuncture
Snopes.com
Headache and Migraine News
The Purchase Journal(ism) – Original article
Dr. Dave Watson

11 Replies to “Debunking the myth of daith piercing”

  1. I am on a lot of different Facebook groups for migraines. The people who are getting this are ones who have tried multiple treatments….including the normal protocols and haven’t responded to anything. They are chronic patients who are desperate for any relief….placebo effect or not.

  2. We were in the process of trying to find someone who knew how to do this. Now we will wait for more information. The first thing comes to mind is some students doing media research. Thanks for posting this.

  3. I can tell from true life experience that from my point of you if you have tried everything MEDICALLY POSSIBLE Which have not worked. The last treatment was getting a spinal ablation (they burn the nerves in the back of your neck, they grow back six to twelve months, the burning sensation after last for I don’t know how long 3 1/2 weeks and burning and Still having migraines)

    So tomorrow I am going to get a daith piercing. If your in that much pain for so long u Do try anything

  4. YES, TAMMY!!! This is the first common sense, factual article written about daith piercing. I believe a lot of folks make decisions based on emotion and hype, not fact and reason. Of course, that can be temtpting get when one is in pain.
    I understand that your article was in no way saying that everyone who is interested in daith hasn’t tried other methods of treatment. I really don’t understand why folks get so upset over this issue – one way or the other. It seems to be a rather polarizing topic, no matter what opinion or facts are laid out there.
    Thank you for this article. You wrote what I’ve been thinking for months now.

  5. I get sent these by so many well meaning friends, but I would never take something I’ve read on Facebook as law and just do it without doing intense research. I am a chronic migraine sufferer – sometimes 3 a week or rounds that last for up to three days. I got to the point where I got so sick of living on painkillers or hurling my guts out that I did some research and found different minerals and vitamins that have been proven to help with migraines. I created my own concoction, and I can honestly say I’m down to maybe 5 migraines a month – they are still agonizing and feel like a porcupine is humping my eyeball, but less frequently. My concoction is a daily morning dose of B-complex vitamins, Co-enzyme Q10 and magnesium (and I throw in some milk thistle, just to flush out my liver – but that’s optional). I have epilepsy and take a lot of meds to control it so I can’t just take any painkillers either. But here’s something my neurologist told me to do and I’ve found that sometimes it works. When you get headachy or feel a migraine coming on, drink a big glass of water first, because it may be dehydration that is causing it. And sometimes, after I’ve rehydrated, the symptoms go away. Give it a shot. Maybe it will work for you. Just make sure you eat something when taking the pills otherwise you may get wicked bad heartburn.

  6. I knew it was a “slim to none” chance a daith piercing would work. I was a 44 year old pessimist…I believe I may be experiencing a placebo effect. But I’ve only had one 4 day migraine in 7 weeks! I have had some headaches…but nothing that makes me want to rip my hair out, in a dark room while I vomit. I’ll take the placebo effect for as long as it lasts. (Any relief is better than nothing) Afterwards I will still have 2 pretty cool looking piercings. Yes, I had both ears done simultaneously. It’s a little painful to sleep, but with the high pain tolerance every migraine sufferer has, it’s completely manageable. We’re not doing anything drastic here people, just a little piercing.

  7. My name is Peggy I have say The in both ears I have severe hemilpegic migraines and have had them,years I decided to do the piercings to try and get rid of my problem,i can say its still under observation but will say this however I feel it has helped at least

  8. Tammy…thank you for your incredible, amazing work and for broadening our knowledge on the migraine topic. I am very grateful that my migraines are put at bay with the daily use of Topamax and for acute migraines, Sumavel injections. I know it took me many years to find the right thing to help, and not everyone is a candidate for the 2 medications I use. I did fall into the idea of daith piercings, and just last night I was discussing it with my daughter’s best friend. I am now re-tracing my thought process with the facts that you have shared and will be passing this information along to our friend. I completely appreciate your honesty, devotion, and openness to everyone having their voice be heard. You are definitely an inspiration! Again, thank you for the information and all of your hard work!

  9. I was very skeptical when my daughter wanted one and only wanted one to try and help the migraines she was having. After doing trial runs with our chiropractor who is also licensed in accupuncture for 3 weeks, we agreed that he should mark the spot for the piercing. I believe this is the only route to take. Hers is actually a forward helix piercing on the opposite side from where the pain usually originates – opposite of alot of articles I’ve read. Also, the referencing snopes when the author of the snopes article has been found to be a bad author for snopes and should not be considered seriously makes me respond. Back to my daughter, we are still in the beginning stages. we trialed for 3 weeks, she’s had the piercing for 3 weeks and only a hint of a headache wanting to push in at time, but for now the debilitating and life stopping migraines are gone.

  10. I have tried the daith piercing on my right ear with not much success. However, my migraines occur in the center of my head, which, according to anecdotal research, indicates the piercing should be on both sides. The question, of course, is do I remove the one piercing and consider this a negative result? Or do I follow through and try it on the other side? A little background knowledge: I am a professional, have two masters degrees, and work in a conservative field, so multiple piercings are not the norm in my world. I have been treated for migraines for 15 years and have tried all of the traditional preventative medications and natural supplements (I cannot count the number of times I’ve dropped $100 at Natural Grocers on various migraine supplements) and a combination of the two and I am currently on 100 mg of Topomax for the second time. I use Imitrex to manage my migraines when they occur, which is a couple of times a week because OTC meds don’t begin to touch them. I don’t believe I’m unusual, I believe I’m typical. So when a colleague suggested getting my daith pierced, someone of similar age and standing, because it worked for her, yes, it was worth considering because it’s not “just a migraine” as mentioned in a comment below. When you’ve suffered for years from migraines and have tried so many things that haven’t worked, the choice becomes between a possible treatment (not cure) for about $50 that can be undone if it doesn’t work (as opposed to some of the more invasive treatments I’ve heard described) or continuing to do the same things that haven’t worked. Just a piercing or just a migraine? Its all a personal choice that needs to be respected for everyone. As for my personal choice, it’s pretty easy- the potential level of reward far outweighs the potential risk, especially if it means far less medication in my system. I’ll be heading back to get the other side done.

Leave a Reply