Acupuncture and Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a common eye disease that occurs in more than sixty million people worldwide. People with glaucoma experience pathological changes which include the loss of retinal ganglion cells at a much faster rate than the normal aging process and optic nerve atrophy. There are two types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma does not have many symptoms; eye pressure rises slowly and the angle between the iris and the cornea is that of a normal eye but the eye’s drainage canal becomes clogged over time and increased eye pressure can lead to optic nerve damage. On the other hand, angle-closure glaucoma may have the following symptoms: headaches, eye pain, nausea, rainbows around lights at night, and very blurred vision with sharply rising eye pressure. In angle-closure glaucoma, the iris is not as wide and open as it should be. The sharp rising of eye pressure can cause irreversible blindness quickly. The most common treatment for glaucoma is the use of eye drops to lower eye pressure, but it can cause severe burning sensations, blurry vision and dryness. In 2013, Rom E. wrote a review article in Acupuncture in Medicine, indicating that acupuncture or ear acupressure may help protect patients from blindness when used as a complementary method to other forms of treatment such as eye drops, laser or surgery. Acupuncture can significantly enhance the pressure-lowering effect of other treatments. Furthermore, studies suggest that acupuncture may also improve blood flow to the eye and the optic nerve head. By regulating nerve growth factor and brain-derived neurotrophic factor and their receptors, it is possible that acupuncture facilitates the survival pathway for cells, in contrast to eye drops, laser, and surgery, which has no effect on improving the blood flow and protecting against nerve degeneration.

Another single-blinded randomized controlled trial published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine in 2010 recruited 33 patients. The researchers divided patients into two groups: an acupressure group and a sham group. Patients in the acupressure group received auricular acupoint including kidney, liver, and eye stimulator tapping and regular massage twice a day for 4 weeks. Patients in the sham group received tapping at sham auricular acupoints (wrist, shoulder, and jaw) without massage stimulation. Intraocular pressure and visual acuity were measured before and after the treatment in the first 4 weeks and for an additional 8 weeks. After the treatment and at the 8-week follow-up, intraocular pressure and visual acuity improved significantly in the acupressure group when compared with pretreatment. The intraocular pressure was lowered the most significantly at about 3-4 weeks after auricular acupressure. After acupressure was stopped for 4 weeks, the eye pressure went back to initial levels. Uncorrected visual acuity was significantly improved at 2 to 4 weeks in the acupressure group. This research verified that after the initial 10 treatments to ensure lower eye pressure, maintenance treatment every 3 to 4 weeks is necessary to keep eye pressure at the normal levels with a minimal dosage of eye drops.

A third study published in Evidence Based Complementary Alternative Medicine, 2012, evaluates the effects of acupuncture on blood flow in humans with ultrasound color Doppler imaging by Takayama S. et al. in 2012. Color Doppler imaging (CDI) can be used to noninvasively create images of human blood vessels and quantitatively evaluate blood flow in real-time. This study found that stimulating the same acupuncture point LR3 can dilate the arteries around the eyes and reduce the blood vessel resistance significantly, but there were no significant changes in blood flow to the abdominal artery. On the other hand, stimulating another very important point, ST36 could lead to a significant increase in blood flow in one of the abdominal arteries, called the mesenteric artery, but no significant change in the vascular resistance of some eye arteries, including the retrobulbar arteries, central retinal artery and short posterior ciliary artery. This study explains why one needs to select specific points for different kind of diseases. In traditional Chinese Medicine, liver blood provides nutrients to the eyes and nerves around the eyes. LR3 is a very popular point for eye problems while ST36 is the most important point for all kinds of digestive problems. But if digestion is not good, vital nutrients cannot be absorbed through the intestines, resulting in unhealthy optic nerves. Clinically, most patients who have eye problems also have different kinds of digestive diseases, such as celiac disease, IBS and colitis.

Why does glaucoma occur in an increasing number of young people?

During my 24 years of practicing acupuncture, I have treated many patients with glaucoma or other vision problems. Acupuncture can lower eye pressure instantly, but to prevent from using eye drops too often, one should have two acupuncture treatments a week to keep eye pressure at optimal levels. One of my patients had laser surgery on both eyes; consequently, her eye pressure initially went down, but after a year or two, scar tissue built up, her eye pressure returned to glaucoma levels. She could not lower her eye pressure with a regular dosage of eye drops. When she tried to increase the dosage, her eyes became so dry that she could not read. She came to acupuncture for neck and back pain, and when I applied some needles on certain points to lower her eye pressure, her eye pressure dropped surprisingly quickly after two treatments, within a week. She also noted that her vision was much sharper right after her treatment and usually lasted for 3 days. Since using eye drops cannot improve circulation to optic nerves, combining eye drops with acupuncture treatments will not only maintain normal eye pressure with the lowest possible dosage of eye drops, but can also slow down optic nerve damage. Furthermore, after laser eye surgery, acupuncture can help reduce scar tissue buildup by quickly reducing swelling.

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