Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) occurs when aging slowly damages the part of the eye controlling sharp, straight-ahead vision, called the macula. The macula, which is part of the retina, is located at the back of the eye. Over time, AMD can lead to the loss of central vision, making it difficult to read, drive, or see faces. While this disease does not lead to blindness, the loss of central vision can negatively impact an aging person’s life. In addition to treatments like dietary supplements, injections, and laser therapy, acupuncture may offer a natural way to improve vision and slow the progression of AMD.
Understanding the Progression of AMD
According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), age-related macular degeneration is the leading cause of vision loss for aging adults. There are two types of AMD: Dry AMD (also called atrophic AMD) occurs when the macula slowly thins over time, while Wet AMD (also called advanced neovascular AMD) results from abnormal blood vessels growing and damaging the macula, leading to rapid vision loss. Many people don’t experience symptoms until the condition has progressed to an intermediate or late stage when they start having trouble seeing in low lighting or they develop blurry vision. Risk factors include age (55 or older), family history of AMD, smoking, and race (Caucasians are the most likely to develop AMD).
How Western Medicine Manages and Treats AMD
There is no treatment to reverse or cure AMD. The focus of treatment is to prevent deterioration through optimal nutrition and wellness. Western medicine typically focuses on AMD prevention, encouraging aging individuals to quit smoking, exercise regularly, eat a nutrient-dense diet high in leafy green vegetables and fish, and maintain healthy blood pressure and cholesterol levels. Although there is no treatment for early AMD, some doctors may prescribe AREDS 2 supplements that contain large amounts of certain vitamins and minerals. These supplements may cause digestive changes or interfere with other medications you take, so make sure you know the possible side effects before taking them. If you have wet AMD, the doctor may inject medicines in your eye or recommend photodynamic therapy—a combination of injections and laser treatment. Unfortunately, these injection treatments only last for a short time and have to be repeated regularly.
How Acupuncture May Slow Progression of AMD
While more comprehensive clinical research is needed to understand acupuncture’s effect on managing the progression of AMD, existing studies show promising results. According to one clinical study on acupuncture for AMD, acupuncture therapy significantly improved eye symptoms of AMD (blurred vision, low visual acuity, distorted vision, and visual fatigue) in patients. Another study compared two acupuncture techniques, with both groups experiencing improvement in AMD symptoms over a three-month period. Additionally, an observational study from Germany concluded, “acupuncture may be a useful treatment option in patients with AMD,” while a case series from New Mexico found that acupuncture improved visual acuity, distant vision, and near vision in 69 percent of AMD patients. A Chinese clinical trial comparing acupuncture to medication concluded that acupuncture led to a more significant improvement in visual acuity in AMD patients than medication did. This preliminary research indicates the benefits and efficacy of acupuncture therapy in slowing the progression of AMD and even improving vision and quality of life.
Call the NW Portland office of Inner Works Acupuncture today at (503) 227-2127 to schedule an appointment.