Acupuncture has been used for millennia to treat eye disease. Today, acupuncture can help preserve vision for those with a wide range of eye conditions including macular degeneration, glaucoma, eye floaters, dry eyes, cataracts and much more. Part of Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture involves a practitioner inserting tiny needles into the skin. It is licensed and regulated by most states in the US. How does acupuncture work, and what are its effects on supporting eye conditions? What could you expect from acupuncture treatments? What can you do at home?
Natural Eye Care owners Michael Edson, L.Ac. and Marc Grossman, OD, L.Ac are both licensed acupuncturists specializing in the eye; Dr. Grossman is also a Doctor of Optometry. Here are the answers to these questions and more.
What is Acupuncture?
Acupuncture is based on ancient Chinese tradition. A licensed acupuncturist inserts tiny needles into specific points on the body. These points are typically on the “meridian” lines, which is where specific flows of energy travel in the body. Unbalanced meridians and blocked energy can damage health over time. There are 71 meridians in each person. An acupuncturist typically looks at and treats some combination of 20 meridians (12 of which are related to flows of energy that go through organs of the body), which varies depending on the acupuncturist’s training. The acupuncturist selects the points based on imbalances that he or she recognizes during the patient intake process. Very small needles are left in place for a short time (usually 20-30 minutes), with the overall goal of opening up blocked energy and helping balance out meridians.
Western medicine typically prescribes a specific treatment for a specific disease, usually based on relieving symptoms and managing health problems. The Chinese perspective is that imbalances in specific body systems cause disease, and that if these imbalances get corrected over time, one’s full health can be restored. The professional acupuncturist does an examination that may include looking at the tongue and taking the patient’s pulse, as well as other observations. Acupuncture treatments for the same disease may be different, depending on which meridians are out of balance. Therefore, two people with the same Western disease diagnosis often is given different acupuncture treatments.
Often, herbs are combined with acupuncture as part of the overall treatment. These herbs and related substances are also meant to address imbalances. It is not uncommon to leave an acupuncturist’s office after treatment with a small bag of herbs, teas and salves to use at home.
For chronic conditions, the patient usually gets acupuncture once or twice per week until they see sufficient results. For acute conditions, treatments may be more frequent.
Acupuncture is usually done in the practitioner’s office. Patients wear loose-fitting garments. Pant legs and sleeves may need to be rolled up. After an initial examination, the patient lies down while the practitioner gently inserts the little needles. Smaller than the width of a human hair, these solid needles are typically painless. The FDA regulates sterile, single-use needles in order to reduce the chance of contamination.
Role of the Liver Meridian
The liver meridian is often implicated in eye disease as the liver “opens to the eyes”. It is the primary energy flow responsible for supporting healthy vision. Additionally, all internal organs nourish the eye:1, and all the meridians either run through the eyes or can affect vision health if out of balance.
Within the eyes, certain meridians have primary influence:
- eye and pupil: kidney
- sclera: lungs
- veins and arteries: heart
- bottom eyelid: stomach
- top eyelid: spleen
- cornea and iris: liver
- retina: kidney and liver
The acupuncture professional often chooses several meridians to address in treatment. Different points may be chosen during a series of sessions, since the body’s imbalances may change when it begins to heal. Acupuncture does not require any belief in order to work. A large body of research indicates its effectiveness for addressing and supporting a wide variety of health concerns.
Acupuncture and Eye Disease
What Research Supports Acupuncture for the Eyes?
Scientific research on all aspects of acupuncture is limited, though there is over 3,000 years of empirical experience to rely on. Many studies have not been translated from the Chinese journals where they were published. The control often uses sham acupuncture, but this may be an invalid approach to acupuncture research.2
Age-Related Macular Degeneration
When the macula begins to break down in the elderly, there is often little that Western medicine can offer except “wait and see,” particularly for eye diseases such as Dry Macular Degeneration, Retinitis Pigmentosa, Stargardt’s Disease, Rod-Cone Dystrophy, and others. Treatments are typically limited to injections, steroid drops and laser treatments in cases of retinal bleeding and/or eye edema. Conventional treatment does not consider underlying energy imbalances and nutritional deficiencies that contribute to or cause eye disease.
A small study in China found that acupuncture was 88% effective for Macular Degeneration patients versus 60% effective for a control group (which received vitamins and medication). 3
Retinitis Pigmentosa patients are genetically pre-programmed to gradually lose much of their peripheral and color vision over time as their photoreceptor cells deteriorate. A 2014 small study found half the patients had significant improvement in their vision from acupuncture treatments and nutritional support. 4
A small study of rats with lab-induced retinitis pigmentosa received acupuncture for a week. Researchers examined the retinas and compared them to controls shortly after the last treatment. The rats receiving acupuncture had less damage in their retinas5. Another study found that a particular form of acupuncture called, “Erlong Xizhu Acupuncture” was more effective than conventional acupuncture.6
Glaucoma and Acupuncture
In 2007, researchers attempted to evaluate the effectiveness of acupuncture on glaucoma. However, they were unable to find enough usable research.7
A pilot study of 11 patients found that intraocular pressure significantly improved 15 minutes after treatment.8. Visual acuity also improved. The treatments were twice-weekly for five weeks. However, the entire effect did not hold more than a month.
However, a recent study find that electro-acupuncture on the meridian points Pucan (BL 61) and Shenmai (BL 62) for 20 minutes is effective in reducing intraocular pressure.9
Acupuncture and Myopia
Near-sightedness is almost epidemic with the popularity of screens and excessive study, especially in some parts of Asia. This refractive error makes far objects blurry. The treatment is corrective lenses. One study used acupoint stimulation — electrical stimulation on acupuncture points — and atropine drops; the controls just had the drops. The treated patients had less myopic progression, less axial length elongation, more anterior chamber deepening, and greater IOP reductions. 10
A larger study (409 subjects) on children found acupuncture reduced vision symptoms, but did not appear to reduce myopia11
Another study used an abdominal acupuncture method of successfully treating 90 children with myopia. Interestingly, this study compared use of acupuncture to ear acupuncture and found that while both methods produced improvements, the abdominal method was superior. 12
Red, itchy watery eyes is a major allergy symptom. Guest author Dr. Lori Grayson wrote an article for us called “Acupuncture, Chinese Medicine and Allergies.” She cites a study on the benefit of both acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicine for people with allergies.
There are many causes of dry eye. In one study, 108 subjects received either artificial tears (the standard symptom treatment) or acupuncture for four weeks. For those who had Sjögren syndrome, their dry eye symptoms did not get better with acupuncture. However, the subjects who had dry eye for some other reasons had improvement in tear meniscus height, depth and area.13 A meta-analysis of the research concurred. 14
What Can You Do at Home for Free?
In addition to seeking the professional care of a state-licensed acupuncturist, acupressure massage at home can be helpful for dry eyes. Acupressure means gently massaging acupuncture points, particularly around the eyes. Computer eyestrain causes trouble focusing, red eyes, blurred vision and dry eyes. It is very common because mobile devices, computers and televisions have our continuous attention.
Acupressure massage can reduce tension in the eyes, and help contribute to overall eye health. Use this image as a guide. With clean fingers, gently massage each acupressure point starting with B1-1. Massage each point for five to ten seconds. You can massage both eyes at the same time. Move to the next point (B1-2), massage, and keep going around, ending on ST2. Be sure to breathe deeply. Repeat several times per day. Consult an acupuncturist before acupressure massage If you are pregnant or have some skin damage near the eyes.
The eye acupressure points to massage and Dr. Grossman’s favorite eye exercises are available in our free downloadable eBook, “Exercises to Keep the Eyes Healthy.” You can also go to youtube.com and key in Dr. Grossman eye exercises for a range of videos demonstrating these eye exercises.
About the Authors
Dr. Marc Grossman and Michael Edson, Natural Eye Care owners, are both licensed acupuncturists in the state of New York. Dr. Grossman is also a Doctor of Optometry. They wrote the book, “Natural Eye Care – A Comprehensive Manual for Practitioners of Oriental Medicine,” published by Natural Eye Care Media Services, Inc. Their company seeks to keep the public informed and up-to-date on the latest in medical advances for vision and eye-related conditions. They offer the best in nutrition and holistic medicine to support those with an eye disease, or at risk of losing their vision. Their website, naturaleyecare.com, has eye care information, research, a blog, products, a monthly newsletter, and a signup form for a free vision consult.
- The English-Chinese Encyclopedia of Practical Traditional Chinese Medicine, Volume 17, Ophthalmology, p. 8-10. Beijing, China: Higher Education Press. ↩
- Sham acupuncture may be as efficacious as true acupuncture: a systematic review of clinical trials. Moffet HH, Journal of Alternative Complementary Medicine, March, 2009 ↩
- Chinese Acupuncture & Moxibustion; Observation on Therapeutic Effect of Age-related Macular Degeneration; N.J. Jiao; January 2011 ↩
- Ava K. Bittner, OD et. al. , A pilot study of an acupuncture protocol to improve visual function in retinitis pigmentosa patients, Clinical and Experimental Optometry, May, 2014. ↩
- Effects of acupuncture on morphological changes of photoreceptor cells in rats with retinitis pigmentosa.” by Ma R, Wu G, Zhang R. Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. 2015 Nov;35(11):1149-53. ↩
- Zhao Y, et al, Clinical observation of Erlong Xizhu acupuncture for retinitis pigmentosa, Zhongguo Zhen Jiu., July, 2015 ↩
- Law, Simon K and Li, Tianjing, Acupuncture for glaucoma, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, 2007 ↩
- “Acupuncture For Patients With Glaucoma.” Hiroyuki Arai et. al. Explore: the Journal of Science and Healing. September 2005, Volume 1, Issue 5 ↩
- Yeh TY, Lin JC, Liu CF, Effect of transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation through acupoints of Pucan (BL 61) and Shenmai (BL 62) on intraocular pressure in patients with glaucoma: a randomized controlled trial, Journal of Traditional Chinese Medicine, February, 2016 ↩
- The effect of low-concentration atropine combined with auricular acupoint stimulation in myopia control. Cheng HC et. al. Complementary Therapeutic Medicine, June, 2014 ↩
- Eye exercises of acupoints: their impact on refractive error and visual symptoms in Chinese urban children. by Lin Z et. al. BMC Complementary Alternative Medicine, November, 2013 ↩
- Lv H, Wang L, et al, Clinical observation on therapeutic effect of myopia in children treated with abdomina acupuncture, Zhongguo Zhen Jiu. June, 2015 ↩
- “Fourier-domain optical coherence tomography for monitoring the lower tear meniscus in dry eye after acupuncture treatment.” by Lin T et. al. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, 2015 ↩
- Acupuncture therapy is more effective than artificial tears for dry eye syndrome: evidence based on a meta-analysis. Yang L et al. Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine May, 2015 ↩