Medically reviewed by Jessica Ailani, MD
If you deal with migraine attacks and have struggled to find a treatment that actually works, you may have toyed with getting a daith piercing—a.k.a. the migraine piercing. Located on the middle ridge of cartilage within the ear—the external C-shaped part nearest to your ear canal—the daith piercing has become an increasingly popular way to seek migraine pain relief. On TikTok, videos touting the daith piercing’s alleged benefits have racked up hundreds of thousands of views, but whether the technique actually works is more controversial. Ear Piercing Machine
There isn’t much credible research on daith piercings and migraine. Though a few case studies1 have found that the piercing substantially improved some people’s migraine symptoms, much of the hype behind the trend is purely anecdotal. Some people claim it’s the only migraine treatment that has worked for them, but others say the piercing had no effect, caused an infection, or made their migraine episodes worse.
To figure out if it’s ever worth getting a daith piercing for chronic migraine, we asked a couple headache specialists to weigh in. Here’s what they said.
The daith piercing came about as an earring fad in the ’90s,2 but it wasn’t until around 2015 that speculation about the piercing’s ability to alleviate migraine pain started to pick up, Trevor Gerson, MD, a neurologist and headache specialist at Children’s Mercy in Kansas City, tells SELF. Around this time, Gerson says his headache clinic saw a spike in interest from migraine patients curious about daith piercings.
From then up to now, it wasn’t clear if the piercing actually did anything, Gerson says. Despite the fact that there was, and is, essentially no hard data on the piercing’s effect on migraine, the trend accelerated as people shared their positive experiences on social media. “That’s why it’s spreading, and how it’s spreading,” Gerson says.
There are a few theories as to why daith piercings may help with migraine pain for some people. The leading belief is that, similar to acupuncture, the piercing hits on a pressure point within the ear and changes the chemical balance in the brain, potentially making certain people less prone to migraine symptoms.3 It’s well-known that acupuncture (which involves briefly sticking ultra-thin needles through the skin) can be very effective for headaches, Gerson says, but that doesn’t necessarily mean a long-term ear piercing will have the same effect.4
Another theory is that the piercing calms down the trigeminal nerve—a nerve that runs throughout the face and ears that influences migraine and head pain—or relaxes the vagus nerve, a nerve connected to the ear that can contribute to headaches.5 Lastly, the benefits could simply be due to a very powerful placebo effect, in which case the person’s belief in the treatment—not the treatment itself—leads to real-life benefits. In all, it’s difficult to pinpoint what’s truly what’s going on.
The jury is still out. We finally have a bit of scientific research, but the data is predominantly sourced from one-off case studies. Though case studies are helpful when observing how one person responded to a treatment, the results can’t be applied to other people. In a case study5 published in 2017, a 54-year-old man who struggled with chronic migraine headaches said his symptoms became less frequent and severe after he got a daith piercing. A woman in her 50s had a similar experience, per a 2020 report.2
By Rozalynn S. Frazier, C.P.T.
There have also been a couple of unofficial reports and surveys that found most people with migraine who get their daith pierced experience less intense and frequent headaches. However, these findings haven’t been validated by sound scientific research methods (so although they’re promising, it’s unclear how legit they are).6,7 Lauren Doyle Strauss, DO, a headache specialist at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist, tells SELF that there really isn’t enough data to advise people to get a daith piercing for their migraine symptoms. “We’d love to understand more of if it works and how it works, but, right now, there is not strong evidence,” Strauss says.
Because a daith piercing goes into a thick piece of cartilage packed with nerves, the healing time can take months, and Strauss says there’s a real risk of infection, per the American Migraine Foundation. Daith piercings are also rarely performed by health care providers, so the piercer may not know where, specifically, to target the daith jewelry in your ear.8
Gerson recommends giving standard migraine treatment options a try first: Research and ask your doctor about preventive and abortive medications, nerve-blocking injections, acupuncture, acupressure, and neuromodulation devices that use energy to regulate the central nervous system. “Before you look at the things that have less data,” like daith piercings, “see a health-care provider and really talk through things,” Gerson says.
When it comes to migraine relief, treatment can feel like a toss-up. If you’re curious about daith piercings and want to give them a shot, why not? Just be aware that the effect might be more cosmetic than it is curative.
SELF does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Any information published on this website or by this brand is not intended as a substitute for medical advice, and you should not take any action before consulting with a healthcare professional.