I am not normally one to consider alternative medicine and, in fact, have always been quite negative about such practices. Recently though, I have had to put my disapproval to one side as persistent migraines have left me willing to try anything.
In the past, I have found it hard to understand how natural treatments, such as homeopathy or acupuncture, can be effective. After all, if they were effective, surely Western medicine would not have evolved in the way that it has? The cost of an alternative medicine appointment can be eye-wateringly expensive, and I have often wondered if these practitioners are taking advantage of those who, at their most vulnerable, are willing to try anything to find some relief from their symptoms. However, as I started researching alternative therapies for migraine, there was one ‘treatment’ that came up again and again; daith piercing.
I have been affected by migraines since childhood. It starts with a headache that creeps across my temple with a sensation that is easily distinguishable from a normal headache. Soon, the ache becomes a pounding, throbbing pain across one half of my head, and with this comes an aversion to light. I am soon left with the inability to do anything but lie still in a darkened room. Nausea is a welcome symptom as like many migraine sufferers, vomiting provides me with some relief.
Aside from the awfulness of the migraine itself is the impact it has on daily life. Before we had children, having a migraine would make it impossible for me to go to work that day. But now, it is my wife whose absence record takes a hit – if I have a migraine I cannot look after our children safely, and so she is forced to take time off work.
Unfortunately the tablets that can be taken to treat a migraine when it occurs don’t work for me, so five years ago I started taking preventative medication every day to try to reduce the number of migraines I get. I have now exhausted almost all of the pharmacological options that Western medicine has to offer. The preventative migraine treatments generally come in the form of drugs which are usually prescribed to treat other conditions. As a result, I have tried anti-epileptics, anti-depressants, and blood pressure medication to name just a few. With these, I have endured the side effects of slowed thinking, drowsiness, and weight gain. I have found that high dose beta blockers have provided me with the best relief, but the side effect of severe light headedness is particularly unpleasant. Worrying that I might faint whilst out with my children is a horrible concern to have. On my doctor’s advice I have had numerous attempts at reducing the dose of the beta blockers. These attempts have all failed as they have led to immediate migraines and persistent headaches.
In desperation, I found myself researching daith piercing more carefully. Although I had heard of it before, my scepticism of alternative therapies meant that I had dismissed it as a serious option. The piercing passes through the inner cartilage fold of the ear, a site which acupuncturists may target to provide pain relief from headaches. The piercing may act to provide permanent pressure at this site. From my research, I did not find any scientific evidence to suggest that the piercing had been shown to improve migraines. However, there were plenty of anecdotal success stories (alongside plenty who said the piercing made no difference). After a particularly horrible migraine one Friday which wiped out all of my plans for the weekend, I decided that something had to be done and it might as well be the daith piercing.
I rationalised that I could have the piercing and if it didn’t do anything, I’d only lost £25 in having it done. Feeling like a teenager again, I popped out on my lunch break to a nearby tattoo and piercing shop. My appointment did not start as positively as I might have liked, as even the body piercer was sceptical that a daith piercing would do anything. But I had psyched myself up for it, and I was determined to give it a go.
In the weeks since having the piercing done, I have been doing a lot of positive thinking and visualisation that the piercing will help. A week after having the piercing, I started to very slowly reduce the dose of my medication and am now on a lower daily dose. If I can continue this slow reduction, it will be several months before I can consider stopping them. But even reducing them this far is more progress than I have made on any of my previous attempts. Despite my previous cynicism, I believe that this piercing is working and have hope that I will be able to stop, or at least greatly reduce, the tablets this year. Perhaps any success will be the result of a placebo effect, but I have come to realise that even if it is, all that matters is that it helps me to manage the migraines. One thing is for sure, I have found myself eating humble pie when it comes to alternative approaches to healthcare.
Hannah is a freelance writer living in Bristol with her wife and two daughters aged three and one. When she’s not obsessing about getting the laundry done, she can be found eating potatoes. You can find her on Twitter, read her blog and follow her on Facebook
Image credit: Hannah England