Study Shows Acupuncture Works for Lazy Eye

According to a new study, the treatment of one type of lazy eye with acupuncture proved to be as good as the standard eye patching used to help the eyes work together.

The researchers note that in the treatment of lazy eye or amblyopia, acupuncture could be a potential alternative treatment to eye patching (occlusion) therapy. The study was done in China and is in the Archives of Ophthalmology.

Experts from the U.S. who have read the study called it interesting but state the acupuncture treatment for lazy eye deserves more research and do not know if it would catch on in the U.S.

The Details of the Study

The researchers were unable to find a study that compared acupuncture directly with standard therapies such as patching even if some previous research has found it (acupuncture) effective for lazy eye problems.

Chinese researchers at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and the Shantou International Eye Center of Shantou University examined 88 children, ages 7 – 12, suffering from a type of lazy eye known as anisometropic amblyopia, in which a difference exists in the degree of farsightedness or nearsightedness between the two eyes.

The researchers assigned 45 children to the eye patch group and the rest to the acupuncture group. The eye patch group were made to wear a patch over their good eye two hours each day and were told to perform one hour of near-vision activities (computer or work or home work) each day. The acupuncture group was treated with five acupuncture treatment each week. Five different acupoints in the leg, face, and hand were needled by the acupuncturists. The acupuncture group was also told to do an hour of near-vision activities each day.

Results of the Study

After almost four months, the group that had acupuncture improved visual acuity with eyeglasses by about 2.3 lines on the vision chart while the other group were only able to achieve 1.8 lines.

In the patching group an almost 67% improvement of two lines or more occurred in the eye patch group; in the acupuncture group, however, the improvement was almost 76%.

About 42% of the acupuncture group saw a resolution of their ambylopia compared to only 17% in the eye patch group.

The head of the study concluded that the outcomes implied that the effectiveness of the acupuncture treatment is as about the same as that of patching for anisometropic amblyopia in older children.

The resolution rates of the two groups were about equal after 25 weeks with the acupuncture group showing 42% and the patched group 30%.

A Closer Look at Acupuncture for Lazy Eye Treatment

The researchers were having a difficult time explaining how acupuncture exactly works for lazy eye. The treatment has been shown to boost circulation to the eye and brain, activating growth factors in the retinal nerve resulting in metabolic changes in the central nervous system. This, they theorize, may explain how the treatment works for amblyopia.

Patching vs Acupuncture

A couple of experts not affiliated with the study called the research scientifically sound, although they think it was small and that the Chinese widely accept acupuncture more so than most people in the world.

Professor of ophthalmology and pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University, Michael Repka, MD says ”The almost two lines [on the eye chart] is a very significant improvement”.

He notes, however, that this is just an initial and single study.

He says that a part of the improvement may be attributed to the wearing of glasses. “There’s a time commitment for acupuncture.” Compared to eye patch, acupuncture treatment is costly and time consuming. The eye patch is usually worn at home for two hours each day, he added.

Another drawback of acupuncture is the needle or specifically, the children’s inherent fear of it although Dr. Repka believes that this is not much of a problem with the older children and one can probably talk the younger children into it.

For parents who want to try acupuncture to help their child overcome anisometropic amblyopia, this is not a problem provided that it comes with continued follow-up to the child’s ophthalmologist.

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