If you, or someone you know, suffers from chronic migraines, you’ll understand how unpleasant and disabling the condition can be. With symptoms that range from uncomfortable to downright excruciating*, it is important to find a treatment that works for you.
Sadly, despite being a common condition, affecting 1 in 5 women and 1 in 15 men, the cause of migraines remains mysterious and treatments have varying effectiveness, only working on an individual basis.
If over-the-counter painkillers like paracetamol and ibuprofen or prescription drugs like triptans Almotripan and Sumatriptan do little to alleviate your symptoms, it is worth exploring alternative methods of treatment. Read on to discover two popular treatments for migraines - daith piercing and botox.
There are many different types of headache, ranging from tension headaches and cluster headaches to migraine. For this reason, if you have not had an official diagnosis, you should first consult with a doctor or a specialist in neurology before beginning treatment.
*For example, nausea, vomiting, head pain, light sensitivity and visual disturbances.
A daith piercing is a unique form of migraine treatment that works in a similar way to acupuncture. A therapist will puncture the innermost cartilage of your ear with a hollow needle.
It is important to understand that daith piercing is an alternative therapy. There is no scientific evidence to suggest that alternative medicine is effective, however, many migraine sufferers find some methods beneficial.
Daith piercing is a form of ear relaxology - this is an alternative medicine involving pressure points located around nerves. For migraines, piercings will target the vagus nerve for preventive effects. The vagus nerve is involved in many bodily functions, from digestive health to emotional and immune response. It is an essential part of the nervous system, extending from the brainstem to the digestive tract. Along the way, it is involved in various tasks.
Interestingly, stimulation of the vagus nerve with electrical energy has shown to aid in the treatment of brain-based disorders, including epilepsy, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). With migraines also being centred in the brain, it is believed by some that the pressure generated from a piercing stimulates the vagus nerve in the same way as pulses generated from electrodes.
To date, there have been no clinical trials to suggest daith piercing as an effective treatment for any condition. It has certainly helped some individuals, however, this equally may be due to a placebo effect, whereby a patient's belief in a treatment alleviates migraine symptoms. As migraines have a psychosomatic element to them, this is likely.
If you do decide to go down this route, you should know the risks associated with a daith piercing. Due to the fact the piercing is through the cartilage, rather than skin or earlobes, there is an increased chance of side effects occurring.
The most common side effect is a higher susceptibility to infections. If the tools used to perform the piercing are not sanitised, especially if they have been used for previous piercings, you are more likely to develop an infection. When getting any piercing, it is important to do your research and choose a therapist with good credentials and experience.
You should also expect minor side effects like pain, bleeding and swelling.
Botox, otherwise known as OnabotulinumtoxinA, is actually a poison produced by a bacteria called Clostridium botulinum. It has an interesting effect - it paralyses muscles by preventing nerve endings from responding to electrical impulses. In fact, it is the same toxin that causes deadly botulism - however, only if consumed in large quantities in spoiled food. As a medical treatment, it is considered safe.
Botox is used as a cosmetic treatment for wrinkles. Injections are usually administered to the forehead, frown and around the eyes, preventing facial muscles from contracting and causing wrinkles. Effects generally last three to four months, until the paralysis wears off and wrinkles return.
Botox’s effect on migraines was discovered by accident in patients undergoing cosmetic procedures. Overall, they reported less headaches for the months after the treatments. Botox will most likely not eliminate migraines, but rather reduce the intensity and frequency. You should expect migraine attacks to be episodic rather than chronic with Botox.
As Botox has a paralyzing effect, it is believed that it temporarily blocks neurotransmitters before they reach nerve endings located around injection sites. It does this by paralyzing small nerves called sensory fibres. The result is that any pain signals produced by the brain are not as easily interpreted by the receptor nerve endings, so fewer pain-inducing chemicals are produced.
Due to the number of nerves in your head, you will need to have a lot of injections across your head and upper back.
As mentioned above, Botox will not completely cure your migraines - you should still expect headaches. However, if treatment is successful, symptoms will be considerably easier to manage and your quality of life will massively improve. Some migraine patients will even find they have completely pain-free days on occasion.
Treatment is delivered as injections. These will be in areas located all around your head, including the forehead, brow, above you ears and above your spine. In total, there are roughly 31 injections at a time. Thankfully, the needles are small and the process should take under 20 minutes.
Botox is administered at 12-week intervals. As the toxins take time to work, you should not expect relief until around week four. Some patients may also find no change until the second set of injections at 12 weeks. Unfortunately, around 25% of patients may find no symptomatic improvement from Botox.
As an alternative therapy, daith piercing is not normally recommended by healthcare professionals. The pro of this treatment method is that it is relatively inexpensive. As a simple piercing, you are only paying for the time of the therapist and the material itself. Some GP surgeries may offer acupuncture and other piercing services, however, it is uncommon. Most likely you will need to research and cover the cost of a therapist yourself.
If you believe Botox may work for you, you should speak to your doctor for more information. This treatment of migraines is backed by clinical studies, so will be more easy to acquire through your GP, though they may first refer you to a neurologist. Depending on your location, Botox for migraines may be charged publicly or privately. In the UK, the treatment is available on the NHS with an additional cost. However, cosmetic Botox is not.
Fortunately, there are other treatments for migraine pain available, such as magnesium, naproxen and riboflavin supplements. So if for whatever reason Botox is unsuitable for you, there are many alternatives that can help you achieve a pain-free life.
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