People with migraine headaches are always on the lookout for better relief. There are plenty of prescription and non-prescription drugs available, but a lot of migraineurs would rather not depend on them too much.
Natural remedies and tools like Axon Optics’ migraine glasses, nutritional supplements, and cold packs may help manage migraine symptoms. Tragus piercings are gaining popularity as one of those tools, but do they really work for migraines?
What is the Tragus?
The tragus is the small flap of cartilage at the front of the ear canal. Tragus piercings for migraine can be done in one or both ears. The vagus nerve — one of the longest nerves in the body — connects your brain with your gut. It also branches throughout the ear, including through the tragus.
How Are Tragus Piercings for Migraine Supposed to Work?
The theory behind tragus piercings for migraine is that they stimulate the vagus nerve, thereby alleviating migraine headaches. Vagus nerve stimulation has been shown to help conditions like epilepsy and depression, but claims surrounding migraine relief are all anecdotal.
The idea is similar to acupuncture, where it’s thought that stimulating certain nerve endings at specific points of the body can relieve pain.
What the Research Says
Vagus nerve stimulation has been shown to alleviate some conditions, such as epilepsy and depression, but of course these are not migraines. At this point, evidence that tragus piercings alleviate migraines is mostly anecdotal.
However, research into vagus stimulation as a treatment for headaches is ongoing. Some research indicates vagus stimulation has promise for headache relief, at least in relation to daith piercings. But when it comes to the tragus, we don’t know as much.
What we do know is that the tragus and the daith are at about the same pressure point in the ear that acupuncturists use in targeting migraines. There is much more research on acupuncture as a headache treatment than tragus or daith piercings. Case in point, a review of medical research determines that acupuncture is more effective for headache relief than placebo.
For now, many experts believe that the relief some experience after tragus piercing for migraines is due to the placebo effect. This is where relief is experienced because the person believes the treatment is working, and is usually temporary.
Does the Side Matter in Tragus Piercing?
Actually, yes. At least according to anecdotal advice, if you want to get a tragus piercing for migraines, you should have it done on the side of your head where your pain tends to cluster the most. If you buy into the theory that vagus nerve stimulation can help with a migraine attack, it makes good sense that you’d want to pierce the side closest to where you feel the worst pain. Piercing both sides is also an option.
Possible Risks of Tragus Piercing
The most obvious risk with tragus piercing for migraine is that you’ll go through it and it either won’t help, or even make things worse. Since there is no way to know if it will work for you until you try it, you’re definitely taking that risk. And if you ever decide to remove the piercing, there is likely to be a visible mark left behind.
As with any piercing, there is also some pain involved. There is a lot of cleaning and aftercare required, and the piercing could take anywhere from 4 to 12 months to heal. If you have diabetes, hemophilia, autoimmune disease, or other conditions that could compromise your body’s ability to heal, you should avoid a tragus piercing.
Tragus piercings also carry a risk of infection. Cartilage piercings like the tragus are more likely to lead to infection than those in the earlobe, and antibiotics don’t always work. In rare cases, infections in cartilage piercing infections have led to toxic shock syndrome or sepsis, which are both life threatening.
Other potential risk of tragus piercing could include:
- Bad placement of jewelry
- Allergic reaction to the metals
- Nerve damage
Caring for a Tragus Piercing
After receiving your tragus piercing for migraine, there are some standard steps you’ll need to take. Taking these steps can help reduce your risk of infection.
- Soak the piercing in warm salt water or saline solution at least once a day after day 1
- Pat the area dry after rinsing or soaking — do not rub
- Avoid touching the area without washing your hands
- Avoid using soap, shampoo or detergents on the area the first day
- Use gentle soap and clean water to rinse away any crusty residue
- Wait at least 3 weeks before immersing the piercing in water
- Leave jewelry in place for at least 3 months to allow healing
- Avoid alcohol-based cleaners
- Avoid chemically-scented lotions, soaps, and creams in the area
The Bottom Line on Tragus Piercings
From what we can tell, there could be potential in tragus piercings for migraines, but more research is needed to see if it can be proven. If you decide to try this for yourself, make sure you understand the risks and have reasonable expectations.
You likely can’t get complete relief with tragus piercing for migraines. So as always, continue to use more proven migraine tools to get the best migraine relief possible.