Daith piercing: The new treatment being used to combat chronic migraines

FAIRWAY, Kansas -- If you've ever had a migraine, you know they can be debilitating. People who suffer from chronic migraines are now trying a new treatment. It's a unique type of ear piercing that dates back hundreds of years -- but hasn't been used to treat migraines until recently.

If you're not a fan of needles, you wouldn't want to be Lori Kinnison!

Every three months, the Kansas City woman gets 35 botulism toxin injections into her head to treat her chronic migraines.

"If I stayed home every time I felt bad, I would be home all the time," she said.

Kinnison said she typically gets up to 30 severe migraines every month.

"It is really disheartening, and it wears a person out," she said.

Kinnison said her migraines began as a teenager. She has taken so many different medications over the years, she has lost track of them all. She was taking four prescriptions in addition to her regular injections and said none of them worked for long or very well.

"It just doesn't ever go away," she said.

Kinnison was so desperate that after her visit to the neurologist, she drove straight to Clay Wanstrath's piercing shop to try something she has never tried before: daith piercing. The daith is your ear's innermost cartilage fold.

Kinnison's neurologist, Dr. Dana Winegarner is with the Rowe Neurology Institute.

Winegarner said there are no clinical studies showing daith piercings help with migraines.

"People who were buried hundreds, or even a thousand years ago, have the same ear piercing.  The vagus nerve is not a major sensory nerve. So why does cutting it within the ear help with headaches? I don't know," Winegarner said.

However, there are plenty of people online who say getting their daith pierced has helped with their migraines. Winegarner has even met some of those people.

"A significant minority of the patients have come back and said that it was beneficial for their headaches," Winegarner said.

Kinnison is praying she's one of the significant minority.

The risks of infection are serious with daith piercings. Doctors say you should never do it at home. An infection in this area likely means a trip to the hospital.

The piercing itself only takes seconds.

Kinnison said the whole process was not very painful.

"I just got 35 shots in my head this morning. So comparatively?" she said. "Now let's just hope it fixes the migraines."

If her migraines go away, Kinnison said it would change her life, but she said she's also trying to be realistic. She said she doesn't want to get her heart broken if it doesn't work.

A month after Kinnison got her daith pierced, she said she's still getting migraines -- but has had a couple less severe than the ones she normally gets.

The true test will be in eight more weeks when the regular injections she gets in her head start to wear off. If they wear off, and she still feels better, then the doctor will delay another round of those injections and see how long her relief lasts. After that, it is a process of eliminating each medication to see if she can do without it.

If you're wondering why no clinical study has been conducted, Winegarner says it's a matter of funding.

Getting the piercing is inexpensive compared to all the funding it would take do a sweeping clinical study.

Further complicating matters, Winegarner also said, there's no way to do a blind test with a placebo, as one would do with medications, because everyone knows if they have a hole in their ear.