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Acupuncture May Help Lazy Eye in Older Children


Older children who have lazy eye may have an alternative to wearing an eye patch to help correct their condition. A new study in the December issue of Archives of Ophthalmology reports that children who received acupuncture treatments responded just as well as those who had their eye patched.

Acupuncture could be a new treatment for lazy eye

Lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, is characterized by reduced vision in an eye that has not received adequate use during early childhood, according to the Prevent Blindness America organization. Studies referenced in the new study point out that lazy eye is most often caused by anisometropia, in which one eye focuses better than the other (unequal refractive power). This accounts for about 30 to 50 percent of cases, and occurs with crossed eyes (strabismus) in about another 20 percent of cases.

The new study was conducted by Jianhao Zhao, MD, of Joint Shantou International Eye Center of Shantou University and Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shantou, China, and colleagues, who enrolled 88 children ages 7 to 12 years who had lazy eye and who wore glasses. The children were randomly assigned to an acupuncture or eye patch group.

The acupuncture group consisted of 43 children who received five acupuncture treatments per week for 15 weeks. Five needles were inserted at each session and left in for 15 minutes. The children were also instructed to perform at least one hour per day of near-vision activities, such as reading or typing.

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The 45 children in the other group wore an eye patch for two hours daily and also were instructed to perform at least one hour of near-vision activities per day. The children tolerated their treatments well, although two children in the acupuncture group reported some pain during four sessions. The pain was completely relieved when the needles were removed.

After 15 weeks, lazy eye was resolved in 41.5 percent of the children who received acupuncture and in 16.7 percent of those who used the eye patch.

Prevent Blindness America estimates that 2 to 3 percent of the population has lazy eye, although some estimates are up to 5 percent. Use of glasses or contacts to correct refractive errors is usually effective in children ages 3 to 7 years, but among older children, only 30 percent respond to these efforts.

The results of this study suggest that use of acupuncture for lazy eye is “equivalent to the treatment effect of patching for amblyopia,” note the authors, although they are uncertain why it works. Some suggestions are that it changes the activity of the part of the brain that receives signals from the eyes, or that it increases blood flow to the eyes and surrounding tissues.

For now, it is still too early to say whether acupuncture will be an alternative treatment for lazy eye among older children, as more research is needed. Parents who have a child with lazy eye can get more support and information from The Eye Patch Club, a service of Prevent Blindness America.

Prevent Blindness America
Zhao J et al. Archives of Ophthalmology 2010; 128(12): 1510-17