The science behind daith piercing: Can it really cure migraine?


Last Updated August 13th, 2019

What is daith piercing?

An ear piercing that is done at the crus of the helix, which is the innermost fold of the ear is called daith piercing.  It is considered to be one of the most painful ear piercings to experience.   It is becoming quite popular due to a few claims that it can cure migraine headache.  There is no scientific evidence to support this claim, but there is a debate that it is similar to acupuncture.

Since the ear has several pressure points, it is believed that daith piercing activates the vagus nerve and puts constant pressure on the vagus nerve.  It is believed that certain health conditions can be treated with the activation of the vagus nerve and this includes migraines, epilepsy, anxiety, and depression.

Currently, there is no scientific evidence to prove that daith piercing can actually treat the above health conditions.  Given the increasing belief related to this claim, more thorough research needs to be undertaken under a controlled clinical trial with the help of people suffering from migraine.  In this article, we will discuss the various benefits and side effects of daith piercing.

What are the health benefits associated with daith piercing?

Daith piercing for migraines

Let us first understand what is a migraine headache and how is it caused.  A headache that can vary in intensity and be associated with symptoms such as nausea and sensitivity to light and sound is called a migraine headache.  There is no clear indication as to what causes migraine headaches.  It is believed that changes in the brainstem and the interaction with the trigeminal nerve may be the main reason for the cause of migraine headache.  Migraines can be triggered by a few factors and these include:

  • Hormonal changes – It is a well-known fact that changes in estrogen levels can lead to headaches in women. It is also quite common for women to report headaches before and after their periods, as they have major variations in estrogen levels during this time.
  • Foods – It has been noted that skipping meals as well as fasting can trigger migraines. It can also be associated with foods such as old cheese, salty foods, and processed foods.
  • Food additives – Studies have claimed that certain sweetener namely aspartame as well as monosodium glutamate, both preservatives are considered to be triggers for migraines.
  • Drinks – Highly caffeinated beverages, as well as alcohol and particularly wine, are known to trigger migraines.
  • Stress – Stress of any intensity is considered to be a trigger for migraines.
  • Sensory stimuli – A very common trigger for migraines among a vast population is considered to be sensory stimuli. This generally includes bright light, sun glare, loud sounds, and strong smell.
  • Changes in sleep pattern – Inadequate sleep including missing sleep or broken sleep may trigger migraines.
  • Physical factors- A very intense physical exercise may provoke migraines.
  • Medications – Hormonal medications such as oral contraceptives and vasodilators can trigger migraines.

The relation between daith piercing and migraine relief

As we now have a clear understanding as to what is a migraine and what are the triggers associated with it, let us now understand how daith piercing help with migraines.  The connection of daith piercing and migraine is due to the presence of vagus nerve branches that runs in the ear.

It has been found that the crus of the helix which is the position for daith piercing contains vagus nerve branches.  Vagus nerve controls various activities in our body and hence stimulating the vagus nerve at this point can relieve migraine headaches.  Studies have revealed that stimulating the vagus nerve is one of the ways to relieve symptoms of headache.

It has been found that vagus nerve can be stimulated mainly in three ways and these include electrical stimulation, mechanical stimulation, and medication stimulation.  Daith piercing provides mechanical stimulation and if your headache is associated with a vagal component, it can be relieved with this stimulation.

Daith piercing for anxiety

Anxiety is a medical disorder where there is a constant fear of impending doom.  This can greatly impact the physical and psychological functioning.  Studies have claimed that anxiety can lead to stress and both stress and anxiety is a mental state that is quite difficult to handle.  There are several drugs available which are prescribed by doctors to treat anxiety symptoms.

These drugs cause several side effects and impact our lifestyle.  A holistic way of treating this disorder is with the use of acupuncture.  An acupuncturist targets pressure points on the body to relieve these symptoms.  These pressure points are nothing but the area where the vagus nerve is branched.

Since the vagus nerve is connected to the brain and controls several functions, stimulating them can help treat several health problems.  Daith piercing is a form of acupuncture where the vagus nerve is stimulated and it is believed that it can help relieve the symptoms of anxiety.

Daith piercing for seizure/epilepsy

A sudden spike in brain activity is called a seizure.  Seizures may be caused due to various factors including genetic disorder, trauma to the head, or even a high fever.  A single occurrence of this brain activity is termed seizure whereas multiple seizures are called epilepsy.  Studies have indicated that the vagus nerve plays an important role in the occurrence of seizures.

Research has indicated that stimulating the vagus nerve can prevent seizures by sending mild and regular electrical pulses.  This discovery was so important that the FDA has approved vagus nerve stimulator to manage seizures.  This is called the pacemaker to the brain where the device is implanted in the chest that constantly stimulates the vagus nerve.  Daith piercing does the same by stimulating the vagus nerve and hence can prevent seizures.

Is daith piercing painful?

The answer to this question is a big yes.  In fact, it is considered to be the most painful ear piercings that you could experience.  This is mainly because the area of concern is not just skin but also contains cartilage.  When you puncture cartilage it is obviously going to hurt and of course, is quite severe.  The pain level would be at its peak when the needle is removed after piercing the cartilage.

Complications and risk factors associated with daith piercing

Firstly, as already discussed, there is no scientific evidence proving the effectiveness of daith piercing.  Secondly, there are several risk factors associated with it.  A daith piercing is relatively more painful than other ear piercings.  Since the cartilage is involved, it takes more time to heal and there is a high risk of infection associated with it.  Since it is closer to your hair, there is a higher chance that the hair could get tangled leading to other problems.  Finally, you could get the shock of your life if your daith piercing does not work for migraines or anxiety.

Pain

Daith piercing could be beneficial in many ways but also has a few complications associated with it.  As discussed earlier, it is the most painful of all the ear piercings and believe me you need some real guts to get it done.

Healing

The next part is the healing process.  The healing process associated with daith piercing is quite extensive since the cartilage is involved.  It may take somewhere between three to six months for the wound to heal.  You would need to provide some special care to treat the wound since the puncture would be considerably bigger compared to other ear piercings.  You may consult your doctor who could prescribe some topical cream to heal the wound.  You can also try a natural treatment in the form of mustard oil and turmeric which can act as an antibacterial.  This can help the wound to heal faster.

Infection

Finally, the puncture site may become infected.  Since the puncture wound is comparatively larger than other ear piercings, there is a high possibility that dirt and germs could get accumulated in it.  This may lead to infection of the wound and cause redness and inflammation.  It this persists, there could be an accumulation of pus which might drain out as the infection progresses.  If the infection is not treated appropriately, it can cause damage to the cartilage and can even lead to the death of the cartilage.

Aftercare measures for daith piercing

Once you have got your daith piercing done, you need to follow certain instructions to prevent it from getting infected and provide you the desired result.  These include:

  • Wash your ear daily with water and avoid any soaps or lotions as it may irritate the wound. Pat dry the area thoroughly so as to remove any moisture that can cause an overgrowth of bacteria.
  • Consult your doctor for any topical cream or try the natural treatment of applying turmeric and mustard oil to the wound.
  • Since the wound is close to your hair, make a point to keep your hair in check so that it does not get tangled up with the ring.
  • You can provide saltwater fermentation to the area with the use of a cotton ball to reduce the inflammation.
  • Clean your ears regularly to avoid ear wax coming in contact with the wound.
  • Avoid playing any sports until the wound heals thoroughly.
  • Keep your pillows and bed sheets clean to avoid infection.

What do the experts say?

All the information with regard to daith piercing is related to anecdotal records and there are no clinical trials conducted to prove them.  It becomes practically impossible to have clinical trials as you cannot have human subjects for daith piercing and determine if it works.  A case of acupuncture can be made, which is a more practical approach.  It is believed that the daith piercing sits at the same point where acupuncture is used to treat migraine.

This may prove it to be right theoretically.  Practically speaking, acupuncture is used for a short period of time to activate a nerve, which could relieve pain.  In the case of daith piercing, it is not necessary that a particular nerve would be activated with piercing.  There are proven facts that acupuncture helps relieve migraines and anxiety.

A daith piercing may or may not provide the same effect and it could vary from person to person.  You might experience relief at the initial stages when the piercing was done, but there is no guarantee that the migraine would not recur considering the wide range of triggers involved.


TL;DR?

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