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Acupuncture for headaches and eye problems

acupuncture needlesI often get questions from my patients about complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) for the treatment of their eye problems. Maybe it’s because I’m in California… or maybe it’s because the cost of traditional US healthcare is rising… I don’t know. Here’s what I do know about acupuncture for the treatment of headaches and eye disease:

What it is

Acupuncture broadly applies to the use if procedures that simulate the skin. Usually, these techniques employ solid thin metal needles that are manipulated manually or by electrical stimulation. Acupuncture has been used in the Chinese health care system for thousands of years to correct imbalances in energy flow (Qi). Previous studies have shown that acupuncture can alter blood flow, immune functions, the secretion of neurotransmitters and neurohormones, and the release of opioid peptides.

What can it treat?

Dry eye – one small study found favorable results for using acupuncture to treat dry eye (p<0.01). This is an area of interest in ophthalmology as there are currently no great treatments for dry eye and dry eye affects millions of people.

Headache – looking at 16 studies that treated headache with acupuncture, 7 of them found acupuncture to be equally as effective as standard therapies. Of the remaining 9 studies, 8 found that acupuncture was more effective than standard therapies.

The downside to all of these studies (dry eye and headaches) was that they were not as scientifically rigorous as one would want.

There were some more studies that looked at acupuncture for the treatment of myopia, paralytic strabismus, retinitis pigmentosa, optic atrophy, retrobulbar neuritis, maculopathy, iritis, conjunctivitis, and cataracts. They were all inconclusive.


While there are risks with anything in life, the risks of acupuncture are low. Complications arise from improper needling and can lead to organ puncture and pneumothorax. The use of unsterilized needles can also lead to infections.

The bottom line

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) concluded that there is insufficient evidence to make a ruling on the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of headaches, but in the studies reviewed, two of them showed a positive trend toward the benefit of acupuncture for relieving headaches. For other ocular conditions, they believe that there is not enough evidence to demonstrate the safety and efficacy of acupuncture when compared to standard therapies.

So while the official jury is still out, I recommend to my patients to try acupuncture if they want. It just might work.


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2 comments on “Acupuncture for headaches and eye problems

  1. Paige
    April 15, 2013

    According to an article that I read: Acupuncture has been shown to prompt the release of opioid peptides (such as endorphins) in the brain. Opioid peptides produce a similar analgesic effect as many prescription painkillers—including morphine—except that they are naturally produced by the brain.

  2. spondiloza
    September 17, 2013

    This pain might be so severe that day to day activities are also difficult to carry out.
    A previous neck injury can predispose to a person to
    cervical spondylosis. Spinal decompression treatment therapy
    is used primarily to help remedy disc injuries of the neck reducing back.

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