If you’re among the 12% of the U.S. population who get migraines, you know how intensely painful one of these headaches can be.
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You may have tried everything to get rid of the excruciating hurt – including pain-relieving pills, changes to your diet and aromatherapy. Unfortunately, there’s no permanent cure for the tendency to get migraines.
If you’re frustrated, you might even be willing to try an ear piercing — called a daith piercing — that boasts it will get rid of your migraines forever. But does it work? Here headache specialist Emad Estemalik, MD, clears the rumors about this piercing trend.
No magic pill, er…piercing
Daith piercing is a piercing in the place where the cartilage ridge inside your outer ear, called the helix, ends above the opening to the ear canal. Acupuncture targets this area to relieve migraine headache pain. So the theory is, piercing this trigger point permanently relieves migraines.
But Dr. Estemalik says there’s no medical research that supports this theory. While some people swear that a daith piercing actually gets rid of their migraines, what’s probably at work is a temporary placebo effect, says Dr. Estemalik.
A placebo is an inactive treatment, such as a sugar pill, that mimics an active medication or therapy. The placebo effect happens when you believe the placebo — whether a pill or, in this case, a piercing — is effective. In turn, the placebo has an effect on the medical condition — and can positively affect the perception of pain.
“Placebos aside, there is no scientific evidence or clinical trial results that support ear piercing as a solution to migraines,” Dr. Estemalik says. “There’s nothing in literature I’ve heard of, nothing I’ve read about, nothing I have studied out there that supports such a procedure to treat migraine headaches,” he says. “Receiving a piercing in that area will not alter the pain pathway of migraine.”
How migraines happen
The exact causes of migraines are unknown, although they are related to changes in the brain as well as to genetic causes. People with migraines may inherit the tendency to be affected by certain migraine triggers, such as fatigue, bright lights, weather changes and others.
For many years, scientists believed that migraines were linked to the expanding and narrowing of blood vessels on your brain’s surface. However, it is now believed that migraines are caused by inherited abnormalities in certain areas of your brain.
A migraine begins when hyperactive nerve cells send out impulses to the blood vessels, leading to the blood vessels expanding and the release of prostaglandins, serotonin and other inflammatory substances that cause the blood’s pulsing to be painful. So it’s hard to see why or how a hole in the cartilage of your outer ear would impact the development of a migraine, Dr. Estamalik says.
“I would never recommend ear piercing for one of my patients,” he says. “The danger of infection from a piercing of this site strongly outweighs any unproven benefit.”