The Migraine Monster & the Daith Piercing

This guy.

Let’s start here.  If you suffer from migraines, you have my sympathy. And my commiseration.  I’ve been getting them since I was 13, and they’ve gotten more severe over the years, not less.  Right around the time my mother got for-real sick in 2014, my migraines got worse. A lot worse.  In the year since she died, they were both more frequent and more debilitating.

And I didn’t even have it as bad as it can get. I was only suffering in the I-think-I-might-be-sick and the can-you-stop-breathing-because-it-is-too-loud-for-me-right-now kind of way. Other people actually vomit.  I know my triggers: too much alcohol, hormones, and swings in blood sugar. The first I can avoid.  The last, I can put in a lot of effort to control.  The middle one is up to my adrenal system, such as it is.  I did my best.

The neurologist has a shitload of options. Relapax.  Immatrex. Zo… something.  Topomax.  Look them up and check out the side effects.  At least the first three were rescue – meaning you only take them when you have a migraine.  The Zo…whatever one tastes like lead laced with arsenic as it drips down the back of your throat.  The Topomax is also prescribed for weight loss as it makes sugar taste like mercury poisoning.  It also was sufficient to cause significant worry in those who know me best because I stopped being able to form a sentence.  Or follow a chain of words for long enough to gain any meaning out of them.

In the middle of this, my sister sent me a link to a post on facebook about a chick who had gotten a daith piercing and experienced a dramatic improvement in her migraines.  Like any reasonable person, I was skeptical about getting medical advice from facebook.  I did some more research.  Everything I read said loud and clear that there is no scientifically established reason to believe that this works.  Everything I read said that the evidence for this piercing being helpful was anecdotal.

Here is the legitimate trouble with anecdotal evidence: the anti-vaxxers. Vaccinations are statistically unlikely to do harm to your child.  Autism is not a new thing: there were autistic people before there were vaccinations.  Yes, everything comes with a risk and for a kid who has had an allergic reaction to a vaccine, the statistics mean nothing.  That kid is still miserable, doesn’t matter if the chance of an adverse reaction is one in a million.  However, that shouldn’t translate into everyone stop taking vaccinations.  A smallpox epidemic is statistically going to hurt your kid way more than a vaccine.

However.  We aren’t talking about not having your kid vaccinated because your sister’s hairdresser’s kid has autism and the symptoms only started showing up after the kid got vaccinated for measles.  We’re talking about a piercing.  The risks associated with this adventure?  Well, it hurts like a mofo getting it done.  You should do your research and find a reputable piercing professional with extremely stringent disinfection practices.  And after, you should follow the recommendations for care because infection isn’t fun.

I went in and got mine done in December of last year.  The guy who did my piercing told me straight up that he wasn’t a medical professional, that he had heard of people finding the piercing beneficial, that he hoped it worked for me, but that there was no clinical trial or anything to back up the efficacy.  Either way, I would end up with a cool piercing.

Fair enough.

Now, if you decide to do this, my recommendation is not to do it in the middle of a migraine because, and I preface this with the caveat that this was only my experience, the nerves that are involved in my migraines are also attached to the nerve in the approximate area of my piercing.  I’m telling you, it felt like the entire right side of my face was on fire and burning a hole into my eye and back to where the migraine hurt the worst.  It was no effing joke.

In the three months since I got the piercing, I’ve gone from having two or three three-day migraines in any given month to having one three-day migraine.  I can postpone a meal now without the dread of knowing that I’m going to pay for it.  I can have a Corona with my enchilada, if I feel like it.  Six months ago, I did not delay a meal without paying for it dearly.  I did not have a light beer or a hard cider if I felt like it.  The threat of a migraine hung over everything. Now I go whole weeks without thinking about how I’m going to avoid the debilitating pain of my head going haywire.

Is this anecdotal?  Absolutely.

But here is the problem with this guy.  Or the multiple problems with his argument.

  1. A scientific study like the pharmaceutical company would conduct isn’t possible. You can’t placebo a piercing.  Either you have it or you don’t.  So to come up with something approaching statistical evidence, you’d have to collect enough anecdotal stories to be statistically significant.  Anecdotal evidence, therefore, isn’t to be dismissed, you just need enough of it in aggregate to have it mean something.
  2. If it is the placebo effect, it is still an effect.
  3. Compare the side effects of a piercing to the side effects of *any* of the commonly-prescribed migraine meds.  The piercing is no worse, assuming you take care of it properly, and I certainly thought the hole in my ear was preferable to having my brain seize up to the point where I couldn’t finish a sentence like “I think we should have pizza for dinner.”
  4. One of the treatments for migraines is botox – immobilize the nerves thought to be associated with having a migraine.  Notice “thought to be associated with.”  The doctors can’t say for sure which nerves are associated with a migraine, but they shoot a little botox at some nerves and it seems to work often enough to do it again.  Someone *please* give me a credible explanation as to why putting some metal through a nerve thought to be associated with a migraine is that different than putting botulism toxin into the nerve thought to be associated with a migraine.
  5. Skepticism from someone operating out of theory who hasn’t had a migraine and doesn’t have the experience doesn’t mean shit. The skepticism at that point becomes more about trying to look like the smartest asshole in the room and less about helping people.

If you have chronic migraines, no one can tell you how to live with them or how to treat them.  Should you get your daith pierced?  I can’t say one way or the other. The evidence is anecdotal, meaning there are no guarantees you’ll have the same positive experience as I had.  Here are the options if you get it done: either you will feel a little better, you’ll feel a lot better, or you’ll feel exactly the same as before.  It is possible you will feel worse, but no one can say for sure because there isn’t enough evidence.

If you’re considering trying it out as an alternative to the pharmaceutical options, you’re taking a risk that will cost you somewhere under $120, depending on where you go to get it done.  Despite the skeptics, trying a piercing out to manage the migraine monster doesn’t make you a fool.  It doesn’t make you an idiot.  And even if you end up with a placebo effect, it is still an effect that makes you feel better.

And in my experience, anything is better than the way Zomig (I finally remembered the name of the stuff) tastes.

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The Migraine Monster & the Daith Piercing

3 thoughts on “The Migraine Monster & the Daith Piercing

  1. The link to acupuncture is valid, as far as it goes. The primary difference between Eastern and Western medicine is that Eastern medicine contends that healing comes from within, so “placebo” is encouraged as part of the treatment. The more any patient believes in the treatment, the more likely she will benefit.

    You are right that the so-called “scientific method” is inadequate to validate or invalidate the benefits of acupuncture. The “scientific method” sets up an artificial situation that seeks to reduce variables to one. This makes no sense in real life, because–if you accept the Oriental paradigm–every condition is multi-factorial and pattern-based. There is no direct cause or effect.

    I have many reasons for preferring the Oriental approach. First, it gives credit to life itself–called “qi” or “chi”–something the mechanized Western tradition completely ignores. Healing is believed to come from within. In the West, individuals are machines to be poked, prodded, and treated, with individuality eliminated from the equation. Statistical analysis, for instance, involves numbers, the more the better.

    Second, Oriental medicine emphasizes seeing the patient as a partner, with participation necessary to achieve rebalancing of internal forces. Because the body has a natural homeostasis that it strives to maintain, but this is knocked out of whack by a variety of situations from spiritual, mental, emotional and physical angles. The Oriental approach presumes all problems begin on a spiritual plane, then become increasingly dense if they are ignored, finally manifesting as physical.

    Apologies for this long comment. I should do my own blog on it, because I was involved in an auricular acupuncture study many years ago. Bottom line is that daith piercing sounds much like ear acupuncture. The best explanation for how acupuncture may work is that the metal needles create an electric potential difference between inner and outer surfaces of the skin, thereby stimulating ion flow in the intended direction. Ions like sodium and calcium are major players in the body’s electro-chemistry and are some of the major neurotransmitters, for instance.

    If you want to know more about ear acupuncture, check out the National Acupuncture Detoxification Association’s website. NADA was started by Michael O Smith, MD, DAc, who is now retired. However, he ran an incredibly successful acupuncture detox program in the Lincoln Hospital’s Substance Abuse Treatment Facility in the Bronx (Spanish Harlem), New York. I’m amazed that his treatment model has not reached the mainstream in all this time. The 5-point ear treatment that he used was not specifically for substance abuse but was (and probably still is, although I’ve lost track) also good for stress relief. It’s also low cost and efficient.

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  2. Mostly, I just think it is the height of arrogance to say that we understand how the body works. So we have some grasp of chemistry and an inkling about the mechanics of everything, but the scientific method has only brought us so far. I mean, it is fantastic we don’t do bloodletting anymore. I’m excited about that.

    But to say that we understand the brain, or to throw out the idea of Chi, when we *know* that self-inflicted anxiety has a measurable negative physical impact on the body, just because it is called Chi instead of the thermodynamic whosit of whatsit. It’s just arrogant to me. We’re making this up as we go and the most it seems that anyone can say for certain is that less processed foods, less anxiety, and more time outdoors seems to be good for everyone.

    After that? Sometimes I think the medical establishment says secretly “wtf, we don’t know” and then starts throwing pills.

    I guess I’ll stop with my ranting now.

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  3. I’ve come to believe the medical establishment is 95% hype, calculated to sell patented drugs, plastic knees, and insurance to a gullible public, with the Siamese twins of Wall Street and government calling the shots. I wonder what would happen to Wall Street profits if prescriptions were no longer required. I believe many people would stop taking meds like statins. Doctors already complain about patients being non-compliant. Well, duh. Maybe the drugs make them feel worse instead of better.

    Medical propaganda spewed through the media discounts the body’s natural tendency toward health. After all, the medical racket can’t profit from good health. People don’t trust their own bodies’ homeostatic balance. In Oriental medicine, at least, the patient is an active participant. Healing is believed to become from within rather than from outside, so there’s more of a tendency for patients to attune to their bodies rather than submit like lab rats to external pseudo-authority.

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