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Woman with Headache
By Meghan O'Neal 08/03/2021

When you get pierced, your primary focus during the healing period is on keeping the piercing clean. Good hygiene is key to successful healing. It helps keep debris and bacteria from entering the piercing, avoiding common issues like piercing bumps, irritation, or other minor complications. Additionally, a stringent cleaning schedule makes one of the more extreme complications, piercing infections, nearly impossible.

However, there are some rare complications that can occur after you’ve gotten a piercing, even if you’re taking care of it perfectly. Headaches are one of them.

Some have reported that shortly after getting their cartilage pierced, they start experiencing headaches. This strange side effect is rare, but it pops up enough that it warrants some discussion.

Here’s what we know about headaches after piercings, how you can relieve the pain, and when you should consider medical attention.

Can piercings give you headaches?

Short answer: we don’t really know.

This phenomenon is one that hasn’t been officially studied, so we’re not entirely sure what’s happening when someone experiences headaches after getting pierced. However, anecdotal evidence shows that it occurs enough that there may be some correlation between cartilage piercings and headaches.

In most cases, these headaches begin a day or two after the piercing procedure. Those who experience a piercing headache often start to feel a dull ache on the side of the head where the piercing took place (although, it may manifest in other ways, too). In this case, it’s likely part of the natural pain and discomfort that is standard the first few days after getting a piercing. It only needs time in order to go away. 

It’s been theorized that these types of headaches occur because cartilage is more difficult to pierce than other fleshier areas of the body. The hard, brittle nature of cartilage requires more effort to pierce, and this trauma may trigger a headache response.

Which piercings cause headaches?

Piercing headaches usually show up after getting cartilage pierced. Industrial piercings, in particular, tend to be among the biggest culprits. This could be because it requires two piercings, which can be traumatic to your body. 

Woman with cartilage piercings

A rare side effect, piercing headaches mostly occur in cartilage piercings.

Interestingly, another cartilage piercing that receives headache reports is the daith—a piercing that has gained recent notoriety for its supposed migraine relief. Because the daith is so thick, it’s considered one of the more painful piercings, which could explain why people tend to get headaches after they’ve gotten one.

Don’t let the possibility of a headache deter you from getting these two piercing types; chances are that the headaches should go away after a few days, and you’ll never have a headache because of your piercing again. However, it is important to keep this in mind if you choose one of these piercing types so that you can be aware of the possible headache side effect.

How to alleviate piercing headache pain

You can treat a piercing headache just as you would any minor headache.

  • Over-the-counter pain medication
  • Get plenty of rest
  • Put a cold compress on your forehead
  • Aromatherapy

It’s important to note that you should stay away from aspirin as your piercing is healing. Aspirin is a blood thinner, and since piercing headaches usually occur during the first week of healing, your piercing might still experience some bleeding. Blood thinners won’t help that.

Additionally, piercing headache pain shouldn’t be extreme. If the above suggestions do not provide relief, you should seek medical attention because something else may be wrong.

What not to do when you have a piercing headache

First of all: don’t panic. It can be a bit scary when your piercing isn’t healing like you think it should, but headaches are a minor, if rare, side effect.

Woman with laying on a bed with a headache

Piercing headaches are annoying, but they are nothing to be too concerned about.

Don’t take the jewelry out. Your headache will likely go away in a few days, and if you take the jewelry out, your piercing will close. Take some pain medication and push through. If it doesn’t go away in a few days, talk to your piercer.

Don’t play with the jewelry. You might be tempted to move it or touch it, but this will just cause complications of its own. Continue standard aftercare, and leave the piercing alone.

Don’t fully ignore piercing headaches. Piercing headaches do happen, so they’re nothing to worry about, but if the headache lingers, there might be something else going on. Trust your gut, and if you feel as though something is wrong, seek professional guidance.

When to seek help for a piercing headache

The majority of piercing headaches occur during the first week of healing, and they go away after a few days. This lends to the theory that piercing headaches are simply an uncommon side effect, and they don’t need any more attention than other side effects you’ll experience (like light bleeding and swelling).

If the headache won’t go away, then you should consult your piercer. This could be a sign that you were incorrectly pierced, or there could be some other issue happening here. It’s good to check in with your piercer to make sure that your piercing is healing okay.

If a reputable piercer has confirmed that your piercing is healthy, and the headache still won’t go away, make an appointment with your doctor. 

If you’re experiencing extreme headache pain, visit a doctor immediately. Extreme headache pain after a piercing is almost unheard of, and there’s likely another issue happening that has nothing to do with your piercing.

Piercing headaches are a strange little side effect of cartilage piercings that we don’t fully understand. Since there are no official studies on the matter, we can really only guess at their source. However, if you experience a piercing headache within the first week of healing, don’t worry; it’s likely just part of the healing process.

Shop cartilage piercing jewelry

The best way to get over your piercing headache is to remind yourself of all the beautiful jewelry that you can choose from once your piercing has fully healed. Here are three of our faves.

Meghan O'Neal

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