November 2010




Alternative medicine & visual health

by Matt Young EyeWorld Contributing Editor


To improve visual health in children, focus on the ear. A 2010 report in the American Journal of Chinese Medicine found ear acupressure improved visual ability in some children. "[Ten] children in this study mentioned that they could see words on the blackboard more clearly since the fifth week of [acupressure] intervention," according to study co-author Mei-Ling Yeh, Ph.D., School of Nursing, National Taipei College of Nursing, Taiwan. "They also felt that their eyes were less tired, irritated, or dry during near-work activities."

What's more, the research suggested ear acupressure could lessen myopic progression. "Ear acupressure may be an effective way to alleviate myopic progression in fifth-grade school children in pubertal development," Dr. Yeh reported. "This finding has a significant implication for ear acupressure, especially for societies familiar with oriental cultures and medicine."

Still, researchers noted that in an experimental group of children in which ear acupressure was applied, on average, vision did not get better. It got a little worse, although children did maintain better vision than in a control group.

Evaluating the results

Dr. Yeh analyzed the vision of 70 fifth-grade school children, 35 of whom were in the experimental acupressure group and 35 of whom were controls. The average age was 11 years old. The experimental group consisted of 56 myopic eyes while the control group consisted of 47. The experimental group received a 15-week ear acupressure treatment with seed embedding while the control group did not. The ear acupressure with cowherb seeds took place on six common ear acupoints. "A physician with expertise in Chinese medicine validated the precise seed embedding technique and location," Dr. Yeh reported. "All experimental children were instructed to press each point four times per day for 35 min each time for 15 weeks.

"Data for demographic factors, visual acuity, refractive error, and behavior toward visual health were collected before and after the intervention," Dr. Yeh noted. "The significant differences were observed between the two groups in visual acuity (P= 0.02), refractive error (P= 0.04), and behaviors toward visual health (P= 0.045)." Many children also reported improved vision after acupressure. "In summary, the findings of this study may support ear acupressure as an effective and valuable option for myopic children," Dr. Yeh reported. "Children could easily be taught to practice ear acupressure to maintain visual health."

However, the study acknowledged that on average, visual acuity got slightly worse after ear acupressure, although subjects in the acupressure group fared better than those in the control group. "Regarding refractive status, at pre-test, the experimental and control groups had average refractive errors of 1.75 +/1.54 and 2.61 +/1.76 diopters, respectively," Dr. Yeh reported."At post-test, the experimental and control groups had average refractive errors of 1.98 +/2.04 and 2.98 +/1.94 diopters, respectively." In other words, myopia worsened by 0.23 D in the experimental group and 0.38 D in the control group. When asked whether or not there was a real visual improvement in the acupressure group, Dr. Yeh gave a mixed response. On average, patients were a little bit worse after acupressure, she said. But she pointed to graphs showing that many children still gained lines of visual acuity after acupressure. Of the children who gained Snellen lines after acupressure, more did so in the experimental group than in the control group in certain respects. More eyes gained two lines in the experimental group. More eyes also gained three or more lines in the experimental group. "In clinical observations, we find improvement" among children who undergo ear acupressure to improve visual health, Dr. Yeh said. Further, her report noted that ear acupressure could be a way to "alleviate myopic progression in fifth-grade school children in pubertal development," although it did not suggest acupressure would stop or reverse progression. Dr. Yeh suggested ear acupressure has certain health benefits that could affect the eye. "Ear acupressure with embedded cowherb seeds, called wang bu liu xing, is a method to treat and prevent disease by stimulating specific ear acupoints," Dr. Yeh explained. "Stimulating ear acupoints related to physiological and pathological conditions can elevate endorphin levels and regulate the sympathetic nervous system. Since each part of the body has its corresponding acupoint on the ear surface, stimulating the acupoint can regulate dysfunction of the corresponding body part. For example, vision-related acupoints enhance microcirculation around the eyes to reduce eye strain and relax eye muscles and, as a result, prevent myopic progression."

Mark Packer, M.D., clinical associate professor of ophthalmology, Casey Eye Institute, Oregon Health & Science University, Portland, Ore., took a slightly more skeptical view of ear acupressure to improve vision. "Testing visual acuity is so subjective, especially in kids," Dr. Packer said. "If you can get them to pay attention, they do much better [on tests]. If massaging their ears calms them down, lowers their blood pressure, and makes them more calm and focused, they're going to do much better."

Dr. Packer also suggested there could be a cumulative effect of ear acupressure. "If children receive it every week for three months and get into a highly focused, concentrated state of mind, I can see them doing better on eye exams in that condition," Dr. Packer said. "How long that lasts, I don't know. We would have to do a function MRI study to determine whether there is an intrinsic improvement in the neural pathway from the eye to the brain."

Editors' note: Dr. Yeh has no financial interests related to this study. Dr. Packer has no financial interests related to his comments.

Contact information

Packer: 541-687-2110,
Yeh: +886 2-2822-7101, ext. 3317,

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