Stars and sparkles surround an acupuncture needle.

Can Acupuncture Help Chronic Dry Eye?

If you have been looking for complementary or alternative methods to treat chronic dry eye, you may have considered acupuncture.

Acupuncture is an ancient Chinese therapy that has been popular in the United States since the 1970s. It has long been accepted as a treatment for pain and digestive problems. Researchers have now started to study acupuncture for eye conditions like glaucoma and lazy eye. This has led some to wonder: Could acupuncture work for chronic dry eye?

What is acupuncture?

Acupuncture was developed to restore balance to the body using paths of energy called “meridians” or “qi” (pronounced “chee”). Acupuncturists use very fine needles to target certain parts of the body, called acupoints, to manipulate the flow of energy. These needles do not cause pain.1

People have used acupuncture to treat discomfort and disease for nearly 2,000 years. But in order for doctors to recommend it today, it needs to be tested in clinical trials. Luckily, researchers are studying to see if acupuncture is a safe and effective treatment for chronic dry eye.1,2

How it may affect dry eye

Chronic dry eye is usually treated with artificial tears. These are also known as over-the-counter eye drops. This treatment hydrates and lubricates the eye, providing relief from irritation. But it does not get at the root of the problem: the actual cause of dry eye.3

The cause of dry eye is not known. However, scientists think it may have something to do with 1 or more of the body’s systems, such as the nervous, hormonal, or immune systems.3

That is where acupuncture comes in. The goal of acupuncture is to restore balance. This is why scientists think it could possibly restore balance to the underlying causes of dry eye.3

A review of studies so far show that acupuncture may help with dry eye by:4

  • Improving blood flow to the eyes
  • Increasing the secretion of tears
  • Improving the quality of tears
  • Decreasing tear evaporation
  • Decreasing inflammation around the eyes
  • Stimulating healing and repair

Plus, acupuncture is a safe and non-toxic treatment. This may make it a good alternative for people who cannot use artificial tears.4

Scientists are interested in addressing the underlying causes of dry eye since it is a chronic condition. People with chronic dry eye often need to use medicines multiple times a day. Acupuncture may only need to be done a few times a week, or even less frequently. Clinical studies are testing whether acupuncture can be as effective – or even more effective – than artificial tears.1,2

Exploring the effectiveness

Many studies comparing the effectiveness of acupuncture and artificial tears have been completed. However, there is no wide agreement on what the results mean. This is because of differences in the studies themselves. For example, how many times a week did participants get acupuncture? Which acupoints were used? Did participants use a combination of acupuncture and artificial tears, or just 1 or the other?1

Here is what we do know:1,2,5

  • Acupuncture has been shown to work better than artificial tears in some studies. In others, there was no significant difference between the 2 treatments.
  • Acupuncture may work better than artificial tears for some dry eye symptoms but not others.
  • Sticking to an acupuncture routine, say for longer than 1 month, may get you better results.
  • Combining the 2 treatments can have a better overall effect on chronic dry eye symptoms.

Should you try it?

While we still cannot say for sure that acupuncture works for chronic dry eye, some studies have shown promising results. For now, the best course of action is to talk to your eye doctor to see if acupuncture might be worth exploring.

If you do start acupuncture, follow your doctor’s instructions and continue to take any medicines they prescribed for your chronic dry eye.

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This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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