Could Acupuncture Cure Lazy Eye (Amblyopia)?
Lazy eye, otherwise known as amblyopia, is the leading cause of vision loss in children. It is fairly common and impacts between 1-4% of U.S. children. While this disease often leads to vision loss, there are many treatment options that may help to reduce or even cure the condition. With proper treatment lazy eye doesn’t have to lead to vision loss. Many treatments are available and these treatments are quite effective especially if this problem is diagnosed at an early age. One such treatment that is showing promise in the treatment of amblyopia is the use of acupuncture.
What is lazy eye?
Amblyopia or lazy eye is a sudden and unexplained loss of vision in one or both eyes. This typically occurs during early childhood. In most cases of lazy eye the child will have one weaker eye or a lazy eye and one stronger eye. Studies have shown that both eyes are typically not normal and even the stronger eye may have reduced vision capabilities.
There are many reasons why a child may develop this condition. One common reason is that the two eyes vary in their ability to see. For example a child may have one normal eye that does not require corrective lenses and one eye that is either near or far sighted. The weaker eye produces a blurry image and in time the brain will start to rely more heavily on the stronger eye which causes the condition to develop.
Another cause of lazy eye is that the eyes are misaligned in the skull. One eye may be looking straight on while the other is slightly turned to the side. A common term for this condition is crossed eyed. Since the two eyes are transmitting dramatically different images to the brain it will suppress one of the eyes so that it can create a clear visual picture. Since the brain is not using one eye, this eye will get weaker and will slowly develop amblyopia. Additionally, impairments to the eye such as cataracts, cornea problems and other conditions can lead to a child developing a lazy eye.
What are the current treatment options?
Treatment can be very effective if started early, so it important to know if your child has this condition because there are often no symptoms until vision loss has already occurred. Regular eye exams for children will help parents to find and start treatment for lazy eye as quickly as possible.
Right now one of the most commonly used treatment options for lazy eye is called occlusion therapy. This treatment involves placing a patch over the stronger eye to force the weaker eye to grow and develop. While this treatment can be effective, the results are best when it is started early. For example it may only take a few months of treatment for a child under a year old to overcome amblyopia but it can take years in an older child.
One of the biggest disadvantages of this treatment option is the difficulty in follow through. In order for this treatment to be effective the eye must be patched for several hours each day. This can be very frustrating for a child since it greatly reduces their vision at the time. Since they are forced to use their weaker eye their vision is often very blurry when wearing the patch. Many children refuse to wear their patches or remove them. Additionally it can be difficult for school age children due to teasing and an inability to see clearly when wearing the patch. Many parents find that they must tape the eye patch in place which can cause irritation and pain on the delicate skin around the eye.
Another problem that may develop due to patching is reverse amblyopia. This is especially true for children that need to wear their patch for extended amounts of time each day. Patching can also lead to emotional problems. All too often parents do not or are unable to provide the necessary patching time each day and the amblyopia or lazy eye just gets worse.
Acupuncture and lazy eye
In a recent study performed on 88 children by the Joint Shantou International Eye Center of Shantou University and Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shantou, China acupuncture was compared to patching in the treatment of lazy eye. Of the 88 children participating in the study 43 received acupuncture and 45 received traditional patching. Those receiving acupuncture had 5 treatments per week that targeted 5 specific needle insertion sites on the head, face, hand and leg. Those receiving patching treatment wore their patches for 2 hours per day and were asked to spend at least 1 hour performing tasks that required near vision like reading.
At the end of the study period, which lasted for 15 weeks, visual ability improved in children in both groups. The surprising finding however was that the children receiving the acupuncture had better results than those that underwent patching. Children in the patching group showed visual improvement by 1.8 lines while the acupuncture group improved an average of 2.3 lines. Additionally the lazy eye was considered resolved in 16.7% of those that received patching and 41.5% of those receiving acupuncture.
While more study is needed acupuncture may someday be an effective cure for lazy eye. It is easier to administer this treatment and preliminary studies show that it is just as effective, if not more so, than patching therapy.
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