More people are getting Daith piercing, not only for cosmetic purposes but also as a treatment option for anxiety, migraines, and other symptoms. It's not uncommon to see people with this piercing on their inner ear, but it begs the question: Does Daith piercing work for anxiety?
While the available scientific evidence doesn't demonstrate the effectiveness of piercing for anxiety treatment, some research supports the piercing's mechanism of action. This article takes an in-depth look into Daith piercing for anxiety and the research that supports this practice.
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A Daith piercing goes through the innermost cartilage fold in the ear (the crux of the ear's helix). For some individuals, the piercing goes through the thickest section of the folded ear cartilage. Unlike the more common piercing that people get in the ear lobe, a Daith piercing requires special skills because the curvature of the inner ear necessitates using a curved needle.
Like any other body piercing, there are risks of infection. In fact, 35%¹ of people with ear piercings develop complications, including pain, allergic reactions, hypertrophic scarring, and hematoma formations. Therefore, it's recommended that you find a professional piercer who can explain the risks involved in the process and advise on how to best care for the piercing.
The ear is known to have several pressure points connected to the vagus nerve — the longest of the 10 nerves stemming from the base of the brain and extending to the rest of the body.
Researchers² supporting daith piercing as migraine and anxiety treatment say that getting the Daith piercing puts constant pressure on the vagus nerve, which then stimulates parts of the brain linked to mood and anxiety.
In acupuncture, this spot is referred to as "point zero," and stimulating it through a piercing can help the body maintain homeostasis — a balance among internal conditions and processes. Because anxiety disrupts homeostasis, the piercing's mechanism in maintaining homeostasis is believed to alleviate anxiety.
Many people claim to be skilled piercers, but some acupuncturists are skeptical of unskilled piercers doing Daith piercing. Accessing these pressure points requires incredible precision.
The slightest deviation from the pressure point ruins the intention of getting the piercing altogether. That's why it's critical to find a professional acupuncturist to target the right point.
The little information we have about Daith piercing for anxiety is anecdotal. There hasn't been any peer-reviewed research, clinical trial, or other exploratory studies of the piercing and its effectiveness as an anxiety treatment.
However, we can make a clinical case for acupuncture — which uses the same mechanism as Daith piercing — to treat migraines and anxiety. A study concluded that acupuncture is a promising treatment for panic attacks.
While panic attacks are different from anxiety attacks, the two conditions share similar symptoms, including:
Headaches and migraines
Nausea and stomach pain
Weakness and dizziness
Avoidance of places where attacks occurred previously
There's a close connection between acupuncture and piercings as well. Daith piercings put pressure on the same points acupuncturists target when treating migraines. In theory, daith piercing may have the same effects as acupuncture.
A 2020 scientific report³ investigated anxiety Daith piercing in a 47-year-old woman who experienced headaches and migraines since age 10. After the severity and frequency of migraine increased in her 20s and 30s, she decided to get a Daith piercing in her left ear (the side where she felt pain). She reported that the migraines and headaches on her left side were resolved almost immediately.
Scientific data on death piercing for anxiety is insufficient, primarily because most piercings are done in non-medical facilities. Nonetheless, the International Surveys of the Effects of Daith Piercing on Migraine⁴ by the London Migraine Clinic concluded that 75% of patients who had Daith piercings reported that their migraines had "improved" or that they "no longer experienced them."
It also showed that the piercing stimulated the vagal afferent fibers, which alter the functioning of the vagus nerve, which plays a key role in anxiety.
The improvement of anxiety after a Daith piercing (as mentioned above) could result from the patient believing that the piercing is a "real" medical treatment, despite no solid scientific evidence to support this.
Dr. Emad Estemalik from The Cleveland Clinic⁵ says that the improvements in migraines that people with Daith piercings report are just a temporary placebo effect. The patient's belief that the placebo (Daith piercing) is effective can affect the medical condition and change their perception of pain.
But anxiety is known to increase hyperactivity in specific nerve cells in the brain that send signals to blood vessels in painful pulses, causing migraines. We understand that getting acupuncture to treat migraine and anxiety has better clinical effects than a placebo.
If Daith piercings penetrate the same pressure points targeted by acupuncturists, it likely follows the same mechanism to treat anxiety.
Theoretically, it matters. It's recommended to get a piercing on the side of the head where the anxiety-related pain is concentrated. However, the side doesn't matter if you're not treating anxiety-related migraines. Assuming the anecdotal evidence is true, one may get a Daith piercing to alleviate anxiety symptoms no matter which side the piercing is on.
There is a possibility of experiencing complications after getting a Daith piercing, and it's critical to consider these risks before getting the procedure. The following are potential side effects:
Pain - The piercing can be painful and takes longer to heal than more common ear piercings (about four months to a year).
Infections – Cartilage piercings have higher risks of bacterial infections (such as toxic shock syndrome and sepsis) than lobe piercings. Additionally, the piercing's close proximity to hair may cause the follicles to get tugged or entangled.
Risk factors – Because of the extended time that Daith piercings take to heal, you shouldn't get the piercing if you take blood thinners or have other health conditions, such as diabetes, hemophilia, an autoimmune disease, or any other health issue that affects your body's ability to heal.
There's no scientific research to verify that Daith piercings effectively treat anxiety, which means there's no solid reason to recommend it as an alternative therapy to standard medical treatments.
People considering a Daith piercing should discuss the risks and side effects with a medical professional. You should find a professional piercer if you decide to get the procedure. You should also continue seeking other treatments for anxiety.
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Daith piercing: Wonder treatment or untested fad? | Pro Quest (2020)
Daith piercing: Wonder treatment or untested fad? | NIH: National Library of Medicine (2020)
International surveys of the effects of Daith piercing on migraine | London Migraine Clinic
Can a daith piercing prevent migraines? | Cleveland Clinic