Acupuncture was once a fringe treatment but thanks to a whole host of recent clinical and scientific studies, it is fast gaining acceptance by the wider medical community. Acupuncture therapists use thin needles applied onto the skin, to stimulate energy pathways throughout the body. A recent (2019) double-blind randomised control trial has given much hope to those searching for alternative therapies to help with Dry Eyes – it is significant because in this trial the participants were split into two groups and both groups actually got acupuncture, the catch; only one of the groups received acupuncture specifically targeting Dry Eyes. The study had two interesting outcomes; first, even the group that didn’t have Dry Eye-specific acupuncture reported an improvement in symptoms – suggesting that general acupuncture can be beneficial to the severity of self-reported symptoms. Second, the group that did have Dry Eye-specific acupuncture were found to have an improvement in all the objective clinical measures of Dry Eye – proof that in clinical terms, the acupuncture worked. This is certainly the most clinically rigorous study that we found – but there have been many others that report good outcomes; for example, a host of studies have found that acupuncture was more effective than the use of artificial tears in improving dry eyes. But it should be noted that many other studies have small sample sizes and have been criticised for bias.
Why does acupuncture work for Dry Eyes?
There are a few possible explanations. Starting with the most simple, the relaxing uninterrupted time spent during acupuncture alone might play a role – we certainly know that stress often co-exists with Dry Eyes. More likely, is that acupuncture has been found to have an anti-inflammatory effect on the body; and since Dry Eye is an inflammatory disease, this could very well be the underlying reason. Finally, acupuncture has been found to better help individuals moderate pain, in fact some of the most well established applications of acupuncture is in helping with knee pain, back pain or headaches. Since the most common Dry Eye symptoms are related to discomfort or pain – it could be that acupuncture is helping those with symptoms respond better to the sensation.
What should you be aware of before considering acupuncture?
A few questions still need to be answered; for example, there is debate about how many acupuncture sessions you need before you see or feel results. Some studies suggest 2 sessions completed on consecutive days can show improvement. Some studies also suggest that the effects of acupuncture treatment are delayed and that the benefits can only be experienced 3 weeks after the acupuncture session. We’re also not sure how long the improvement can be maintained after acupuncture treatment has finished, given the chronic nature of Dry Eyes it is our best guess that it will require regular acupuncture treatment to maintain good results (the same as is necessary for other treatments such as those in-practice).
The other thing to consider, is that acupuncture is not an option for everyone – you will need to first check with your doctor if you are a good candidate. Like most treatments, it does also come with risk of adverse side effects which you should discuss with your therapist.
Our thoughts; start by consulting your doctor to check that you are a good candidate for acupuncture – not everyone is! Once you’ve got the green light, find a therapist that is board certified (we love the folks at Pricc London). Finally, go in with an open mind – remembering that the effects of the treatment will be different and on different time scales for everyone.