Updated: Nov 13
There are over 150 types of headaches, divided into two categories: primary headaches and secondary headaches (1). A migraine is a primary headache, meaning a different medical condition isn't the cause; the migraine is the primary diagnosis. Primary headache disorders are clinical diagnoses, meaning there's no blood test or imaging study to diagnose them. A secondary headache is a symptom of another health issue, such as a sinus headache stemming from a sinus infection. When the root cause cannot be found, and relief isn't happening, many migraine sufferers have opted for a daith piercing.
Roughly 35 million Americans experience migraine headaches, myself included. Approximately 43% of women and 18% of men will experience migraines in their lifetime. Additionally, about 25% of migraine patients experience aura with their migraine. These numbers make migraines the third most prevalent and sixth most-disabling illness worldwide (2).
A migraine is an intense throbbing pain or a pulsing sensation, usually on one side of the head. Migraines are frequently accompanied by nausea and vomiting. Many migraine sufferers will experience intolerable sensitivity to light and sound. Migraines can last for hours to days. The pain can be so severe that it interferes with daily activities, including work or school assignments. Migraines may also interfere with the ability to sleep (3).
Some risk factors for migraines include (4):
Sex. Women have migraines three times more often than men.
Age. Most people start having migraine headaches between ages 10 and 40. But many women find that their migraines get better or go away after age 50.
Family history. Four out of five people with migraines have other family members who get them. If one parent has a history of these types of headaches, their child is 50% more likely to get them. If both parents have them, the risk jumps to 75%.
Other medical conditions. Depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, sleep disorders, and epilepsy can raise your odds.
In my experience, no migraine treatment lasted long-term, but getting a daith piercing has been quite successful, so I'd like to talk about it and how my experience went.
What Is A Daith Piercing
A daith piercing pierces through the smallest fold of cartilage in your ear, right at the point where the outer ridge that runs along the top of your ear connects to your inner ear, just above the ear canal. This piercing does not have a lot of science to back it up, primarily theories, but many migraine sufferers, myself included, have found great relief after the piercing has fully healed.
According to the American Migraine Foundation:
“This theory first spread on social media and was popularized on Facebook and Pinterest. Dr. Will Foster, an acupuncturist in Knoxville, Tennessee, confirms that this is a pressure point associated with digestive organs in that part of the ear. The belief is that wearing an earring in your daith provides constant compression to that pressure point, which many believe can relieve pain, especially if acupuncture in the same spot has been effective for you in the past (5).
This method is usually used as a last resort for many because there is no guarantee it will work, and the healing process is long and tedious. One study with 380 participants with a daith piercing found that 47.2% experienced a reduction in migraine frequency (6). In another study, 64% of participants with a daith piercing experienced a decrease in migraine frequency, while 31% stayed the same, and 5% got worse (7).
If a daith piercing is something you're considering, keep in mind that you want to pierce the side that gets headaches. So if you get right-sided migraines predominantly, get the right ear done or the left side for left-sided migraines. If you are someone who gets them on both, like me, get both sides pierced.
My Experience Getting A Daith Piercing
As someone who has suffered from chronic migraines with and without aura since I was 14, finding relief has been a long road. It started with seeing a neurologist and being prescribed medications. I was never asked about diet, water intake, or foods I was eating, nor did we ever discuss potential migraine triggers. I didn't learn about all that until my late 20s. I learned about food sensitivities, decided to do an elimination diet, and found that even certain smells (especially seafood) triggered my migraines.
But first, how do you identify the type of migraines you're having? Well, if you read Earthley's, A Guide to Headaches & Migraines, which I co-wrote, you'd know a migraine with aura, also called classic migraine or complicated migraine, is a recurring headache that strikes after or simultaneously with a sensory disturbance or warning known as an aura (8). These disturbances can produce symptoms such as:
Seeing bright flashing dots, sparkles, or lights
Blind spots in your vision
Numb or tingling skin
Ringing in your ears (tinnitus)
Temporary vision loss
Seeing wavy or jagged lines
Changes in smell or taste
A "funny" feeling (1)
Migraine aura symptoms include temporary visual or other disturbances that usually strike before other migraine symptoms – intense head pain. You may also experience disturbances such as:
Upset stomach or vomiting
Hot flashes and chills
Stuffy or runny nose
Dizziness or spinning (vertigo)
Sore neck or jaw
Sensitivity to light, sounds, smells, touch, or motion
Muscle weakness (9)
A migraine without aura, sometimes referred to as a common migraine or hemicrania simplex, is the most common type, accounting for 75 percent of migraines (10). Migraines without aura typically last between four hours and three days. The frequency of these attacks varies from every few years or several times a week (11).
And finally, chronic migraines are characterized by the experience of at least 15 migrainous headache days per month and are highly disabling. Patients with chronic migraine present to primary care, are often referred for management to secondary care, and comprise a large proportion of patients in specialist headache clinics (12).
I have tried many of the mainstream solutions over the years, including but not limited to the following:
NSAIDs (Advil Migraine)
Botox injections (Botulinum Toxin)
I never had long-term relief, my dosages were consistently increasing, and my quality of life wasn't excellent because I always had a migraine. The mainstream solutions were not working long-term and seemed to only band-aid the problem, even after I figured out my most common triggers.
Since getting my daith piercings, my migraines have been mainly controlled. I can't say they're 100% gone, but I've found 75% relief with my migraines from the piercings, making it much easier to ease migraine pain naturally when they occur. During the healing process, the most common time I struggled with a migraine was when I had a keloid, and I will discuss natural healing methods in the Healing Process Of A Daith Piercing section. Nonetheless, after researching and finding I have utilized all other techniques of migraine control, I was willing to take the risk with a daith pricing, and I've had no regrets, but I would not recommend this as the first course of action.
Preparing For A Daith Piercing
My first recommendation is to buy a travel pillow before you go to get your piercing. You will want to sleep on that to ensure you are not putting pressure on the piercing. This will also help prevent the piercing get bumped, tugged, or snagged while sleeping. Initially, I had ordered this pillow, but it didn't work half as well as the travel pillow.
After you've got your pillow, you should thoroughly research piercers in your area. You do not want to get a piercing done in a mall, but in a private, clean location. You want to be sure the piercer has a good reputation with great reviews. Check their Instagram, Google, Facebook, etc., and don't settle for anything less than 4.5 stars.
When you arrive to get your piercing, the piercer should be prepared to answer any and all questions. If they try to claim this piercing will 100% prevent your migraines; it's probably best to find a new piercer because that is 100% false. My piercer was very quick to say this is not a guarantee to work and explained that if I wasn't seeing relief within a month, I should consider taking it out to avoid the long and tenuous healing process that lies ahead.
When you're ready to be pierced, you should ensure the piercing needle(s) are fresh out of the package and that the body jewelry is soaking in a sterilizing solution (even if it's fresh out of a new package). Ensure your piercer is using clean gloves that have been changed since their previous client and that they are not touching other things with the gloves on to prevent cross-contamination.
The piercing is not pleasant. My first side (left) hurt less than the second (right), and I slightly shifted on the table, which is why I think I had more frequent issues with the right side. This was at no fault of the piercers. I highly suggest doing your best not to move while the piercing is being done, as there is a specific trigger point they're aiming for, and moving will result in a lower success rate.
Healing Process Of A Daith Piercing
It's important to understand that this piercing has a long and tedious healing process. Daith piercings typically take nine months to heal compared to 1-2 months for an earlobe piercing (13). In my case, it took about ten months to heal completely, and I struggled with reoccurring keloids, especially on the right side, because I kept falling asleep on that side.
As per my piercer, the following is expected while a daith piercing is healing:
Discharge: Your body purges dead skin cells as it heals; it is entirely normal and should be white or clear. If it should turn yellow or green, you should contact your piercer.
Crusties: This is discharge gathered at either the entrance or exit of the piercing. These will either get swabbed off while cleaning or come off independently.
Swelling: This can be prominent for the first 3-5 days. Swelling can go away but come back for many reasons (pressure, getting bumped or tugged, jewelry snagging, etc.). Treating swelling to avoid pain and prevent jewelry from embedding or migrating is important.
The piercer will recommend a saline solution, usually H2Ocean Purified Ocean Salt Water. I wasn't a fan of the ingredients (Purified Water, Sea Salt, Lysozyme, Sodium Citrate), so I skipped on that recommendation and made my own by adding the following to a 4-ounce spray bottle:
4 ounces of distilled water
1/2 tsp. Celtic Salt
I used this homemade solution 4-5 times a day to clean my piercings using a fresh Q-tip each time the Q-tip touched my piercing to avoid reintroducing germs. While cleaning, I did my best to remove any discharge or loose crusties.
As I said, I struggled with reoccurring keloids. Symptoms of a keloid include:
Thick, irregular scarring, typically on the earlobes, shoulders, cheeks, or middle chest
Shiny, hairless, lumpy, raised skin
Varied size, depending on the size of the original injury and when the keloid stops growing.
Varied texture, from soft to firm and rubbery
Reddish, brown, or purplish, depending on your skin color
In my experience, I always knew a keloid was forming because it would hurt when I was facially expressive, such as smiling. Yes, it would be physically painful to smile before and during the duration of the keloid. At first, I didn't know what to do for the keloid. My piercer suggested cold compresses and Tylenol, but if you've read my previous post, The Truth About Acitominophen, you know that wasn't an option, so I asked an herbalist what they recommended, and they didn't disappoint.
The herbalist recommended crushed garlic be applied directly to the keloid. They recommended leaving it for 15 minutes, rinsing it off with plain water (not saline), and moisturizing the area. Contrarily, my piercer said not to put anything aside from a saline solution on it and recommended against astringents such as bactine, alcohols (including facial cleansers, body washes, perfumes in personal care products, and hand sanitizers), peroxide, etc. because they're too harsh and will essentially eat away at the tissue trying to heal. They also recommended against ointments and lotions such as bacitracin, Neosporin, body lotions, sunscreen, etc., because they're too heavy and will prevent the body from purging its natural discharge. Personally, I was comfortable using a very thin layer of Earthley's All-Purpose Salve, as the ingredients are 100% natural and not too heavy.
I must warn you, the crushed garlic works like a charm and destroyed keloids within days when only using it 1-2 times per day, but it is painful. It's almost like the garlic is burning off the keloid. According to studies, garlic works similarly to aspirin, blocking certain enzymes from entering the site that contributes to tissue and pigment buildup. Additional health benefits of garlic that may contribute to this effective natural remedy include:
Wound healing properties
Promotes skin rejuvenation (15)
How To Deal With Migraine Naturally
There are many natural ways to deal with migraines without using harmful over-the-counter or prescription medications. From herbs to homeopathy and even alternative therapies like chiropractic care, acupuncture, and more, there's something for everyone but let's focus on herbs and essentials for now.
Peppermint, also known as Mentha piperita, is a part of the mint family known as Lamiaceae. This herb is a hybrid between Watermint (Mentha aquatica) and Spearmint (Mentha spicita) (16). Peppermint can grow up to three feet tall and two feet wide at maturity. Typically peppermint has smooth, red stems with broad and oval tooth-like leaves that may be hairy (17). This aromatic perennial herb has a strong, sweet odor and a warm, pungent taste with a cooling aftertaste. The peppermint plant's fresh leaves are often used in culinary arts, while the flowers are dried and used to flavor foods. Peppermint is also widely known for its many medicinal properties, primarily in the form of oil.
Peppermint, in plant and essential oil form, has excellent benefits for headaches and migraines sufferers. Peppermint's ability to relieve certain types of headaches is likely due to the menthol in peppermint oil. Menthol increases the blood's flow and provides a cooling sensation that assists in easing pain (18). Peppermint may help relieve tension headaches and migraines due to its ability to act as a muscle relaxant and pain reliever. Peppermint also provides a cooling sensation (19).
In one clinical study of 35 people with migraines, when participants applied peppermint oil to the forehead and temples, the pain was reduced significantly after two hours, compared to a placebo oil (20). In another study of 41 people, when participants applied peppermint oil topically to the forehead, they found it to be as effective for headaches as 1,000 mg of acetaminophen (21).
Learn more about the benefits of peppermint here.
Rosemary, also known as Rosmarinus officinalis, is a beautiful evergreen shrub with 1-inch long, needle-like leaves with clusters of white/pale blue flowers that blossom during winter and spring native to the Mediterranean (22). Rosemary has been used for medicinal purposes in the Mediterranean region for many years and has since been cultivated worldwide (23).
Rosemary is in the mint family, so it's no surprise that, like peppermint, rosemary may help relieve headaches and migraines (24). Rosemary is a potent anti-inflammatory with analgesic (pain-relieving) properties. Studies have found rosemary to be "a worthy source" for reducing inflammation and pain, boosting memory, and remedying anxiety (25).
One study found evidence that ingesting rosemary water positively impacted cognitive and cerebrovascular effects in healthy individuals (26). Additionally, folk medicine has used rosemary to alleviate several diseases, including headache, dysmenorrhea, stomachache, epilepsy, rheumatic pain, spasms, nervous agitation, improvement of memory, hysteria, and depression, as well as physical and mental fatigue (27).
Learn more about the benefits of rosemary here.
Lavender, also known as Lavandula angustifolia, is a beautiful herbaceous perennial with purple clusters of flower buds (calyx) with green-grey leaves between 2-3 feet tall. This gorgeous plant is native to Europe (28). Lavender has been used for medicinal purposes as an herb; some people even cook with it.
Due to the pain-relieving and numbing effect lavender can have, lavender and its oil are an effective way to combat inflammation. Chronic inflammation has been linked with many diseases, such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and certain cancers (29). Additionally, many studies have investigated the effects of lavender as a migraine preventative (30).
Inflammation may also result in headaches and migraines. Studies have found that breathing in the scent of lavender essential oil can help the acute management of migraine attacks. One study found that people reported a significant reduction in pain after only 15 minutes of inhaling lavender oil (31). In a study of 129 headache-attack participants, 92 responded entirely or partially to lavender (32).
Learn more about the benefits of lavender here.
Chamomile, also known as Matricaria recutita, is a small daisy-like flower of the German chamomile. The disc-shaped blossom of chamomile has many small flowers with little white petals, a yellow center, and featherlike leaves (33). Chamomile is a traditional medicinal herb native to western Europe, India, and western Asia (34).
Chamomile is an antiseptic, often used as a tonic in many herbal remedies, and is made from English, Roman, or German chamomile (35). Chamomile essential oil is used for its pacifying properties. Chamomile's ability to relax the body and soothe muscles can be beneficial in relieving tension headaches. Chamomile can also help alleviate anxiety and insomnia symptoms, which are common causes of migraine headaches (36).
Additionally, chamomile has anti-inflammatory and pain-reducing properties making it an excellent option for headaches and migraines. One study found that a chamomile gel could reduce migraine pain (37).
Eucalyptus, also known as Eucalyptus globulus Labill, is a tree native to Australia that can grow as tall as 330 feet and is easily identified by its strongly-scented leaves (38). Eucalyptus has been used in many traditional medicine systems, including Chinese, Indian (Ayurvedic), Greek, and European. Today, eucalyptus oil appears in many over-the-counter medications (39).
Eucalyptus essential oil can be beneficial for headaches, especially if sinus issues cause them. This essential oil will open up the nasal passages, clear the sinuses, and alleviate sinus tension that causes headaches. One study found that combining peppermint and eucalyptus essential oils with ethanol provided relaxing effects on the muscles and the mind, which ultimately could help soothe headaches (40).
Researchers have documented eucalyptus essential oil exhibiting anti-inflammatory effects when treating respiratory conditions. This essential oil indicated antibacterial, antiviral, and antimicrobial properties that alleviate sinus pressure induced by an inflammatory response (41). Additionally, eucalyptus essential oil has pain-reducing and relaxing effects, benefiting people suffering from tension headaches (42).