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5 autoimmune conditions that can affect your eyes and your vision

When the immune system attacks the body and damages healthy cells, vision is often collateral damage. The eyes often give both a patient and practitioner a tip that an autoimmune disease may be developing.

autoimmune conditions and the eyes: what acupuncture can do

In this article, we will cover how the following conditions can impact your vision and what acupuncture can do about it.

  1. Diabetes (type I and type II)

  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis

  3. Ankylosing Spondylitis

  4. Lupus

  5. Multiple Sclerosis

Diabetes: diabetic retinopathy

The statistics connecting diabetes and vision are really concerning.

Almost all patients with type 1 diabetes, and more than 50% of patients with type 2 diabetes experience retinopathy. Diabetic retinopathy is the most frequent cause of blindness among adults ages 20 to 74, according to Diabetes Care.

A chronic increased level of blood sugar damages the small blood vessels in body, including those at the back of the eyes. Diabetes can also cause cataracts or glaucoma. Diabetic retinopathy (DR) is one of the most common microvascular diabetes complications.

Acupuncture and herbs improve eyesight for patients with diabetic retinopathy.

In a controlled clinical trial, the Hubei Provincial Hospital of Traditional Chinese Medicine ophthalmology department found that Chinese herbs benefit vision, and that the addition of acupuncture to the protocol significantly improved patient outcomes. Diabetic retinopathy patients receiving acupuncture and herbal medicine demonstrated significant improvements in visual acuity.

Also, patients demonstrated improvements in the health of the retina; there were reductions in ocular microaneurysms, hard exudate, cotton wool spots, retinal bleeding, edema, and leaking blood vessels. [1]

Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA): dry eyes

While hands, arms, legs and feet tend to suffer the most in rheumatoid arthritis, this inflammatory disorder can also cause dryness in the eyes.

closeup of a dry eye

Approximately 25 percent of patients with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) will have ocular manifestations. Unlike with MS, vision problems from rheumatoid arthritis usually involve both eyes.

Dry eye syndrome is perhaps the most common eye condition to accompany rheumatoid arthritis, but painful scleritis (inflammation in the white of the eye) and uveitis (inflammation of the tissue in the eye wall) are possible as well.

Acupuncture and herbs in the treatment of dry eye syndrome

Acupuncture efficacy was measured using the Ocular Surface Disease Index, the Visual Acuity Scale and quality-of-life scales. Two groups also examined tear-film breakup time and Schirmer’s scores. One study involved a four-week course of acupuncture treatments, and although researchers found no significant differences between groups at the end of the treatment period, re-examination at eight weeks showed statistically significant improvements for the acupuncture treatment group.

Ankylosing Spondylitis (AS): uveitis

Ankylosing spondylitis (AS) is a chronic inflammatory disease of the spine joints and the sacroiliac joint. People with AS may also have inflammation in other joints like the shoulders or knees. Sometimes people have symptoms in other organ systems as well, like the eyes.

According to a 2015 study, 26% of people with AS will develop anterior uveitis, an inflammation of the pigmented cells of the iris in the eye. It can lead to blurred vision, “floaters,” and redness of the eye.

Acupuncture for AS and uveitis

There is some evidence to support the use of acupuncture for pain relief in patients suffering from AS.[2]

Researchers at the University of Vienna have also reported the results of a small trial of acupuncture in uveitis.

acupuncture for uveitis, acupuncture for the eyes

The level of inflammation within the uvea before and after treatment was checked by a laser instrument. The pain and inflammation of uveitis are much reduced by acupuncture in this study.

All of the patients treated with Acupuncture reported

  • decrease of eye pain

  • increased visual acuity

  • increase in the time the patients remained free of the condition

Lupus (SLE): vasculitis of the retina

Lupus can damage any and every part of the body, including the eyes.

man with optic neropathy

Lupus is extremely complex and unpredictable. When it comes to vision, SLE can cause everything from scleritis (inflammation of the white of the eye), to retinal vascular lesions, to optic neuropathy. Lupus is also frequently associated with Sjogren’s syndrome, which presents itself similarly to dry eye syndrome.

In lupus, the retina is a major area of involvement. People with lupus can get retinal vasculitis, which limits the blood supply to the retina, impacting vision.

The eye then, in an attempt to repair itself, forms new blood vessels. This is called angiogenesis. These new blood vessels form in areas of the eye that can then block vision, or they can start bleeding, which can also impact your sight.

There are many traditional Chinese herbs that are valuable specifically against angiogenesis and that prevent retinal bleeding [3,4].
  • Angelica sinensis, also known as Dang Gui or Dong Quai

  • Artemisia Annua, Chinese Wormwood, Qing Hao

  • Scutellaria Baicalensis, Chinese Skullcap, Huang Qin

Multiple Sclerosis (MS): optic neuritis

example of acupuncture for optic neuritis and MS

Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a progressive disease that damages the brain and spinal cord. Vision problems are among the first noticeable signs of MS for most people.

The optic neuritis often caused by MS can bring any combination of blurred vision, color vision loss or a dim spot, usually to one eye. MS patients also frequently report double vision or uncontrolled eye movements. Visual field defects in patients with MS are a result of demyelination along the visual pathway

From a Chinese medical perspective, optic nerve inflammation is often due to stagnant Qi and heat. The Liver which opens to the eyes is the primary organ targeted of energy in the treatment of optic neuritis.

In a small animal study, researchers have demonstrated that needling the acupuncture point GB20 specifically reversed the expression of 21 genes that were up-regulated by optic neuritis, and also boosted the expression of certain genes to repair the retina.

Beyond treating your eyes : going to the root

With the help of Chinese herbs, acupuncture and dietary changes, you will be guided to help target the root cause of your eye disorder.



Patel SJ, Lundy DC. Ocular manifestations of autoimmune disease. Am Fam Physician. 2002 Sep 15;66(6):991-8. PMID: 12358224.

[1] Zhu Dan (2018) “Clinical Observation on Acupuncture Combined with He Xue Ming Mu Tablets in Treatment of Diabetic Retinopathy” Journal of Hubei University of Chinese Medicine Vol. 20 (4), pp. 87-89.

[2] Chou PC, Chu HY. Clinical efficacy of acupuncture on rheumatoid arthritis and associated mechanisms: a systemic review. Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2018;2018:8596918. doi:10.1155/2018/8596918

[3] Zhu XX, Yang LY, Li YJ, Zhang D, Chen Y, et al. (2013). Effects of sesquiterpene, flavonoid and coumarin types of compounds from Artemisia annua L. on production of mediators of angiogenesis. Pharmacol Rep. 2013;65(2):410-20

[4] Radomska-Lesniewska DR, Osiecka-Iwan A, Hyc A, Gozdz A, Dabrowska AM, et al. (2019). Therapeutic potential of curcumin in eye disease. Cent Eur J Immunol. 2019;44(2):181-189


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