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Light on Glaucoma. Care for your optic nerve with acupuncture & Chinese medicine

Glaucoma is a common eye disorder, often associated with aging. It refers to damage to the optic nerve.

It mostly occurs in persons over age 35, with increasing incidence among the elderly: about 2% of persons over age 40, and about 10% of persons over age 70 have chronic glaucoma.

About 15% of blindness in adults is due to glaucoma. It is called the "silent thief" because often times it will cause blindness without any other warning signs.

Causes & types of Glaucoma

Intra-ocular pressure

The main culprit of glaucoma is pressure inside of your eyeball. This is usually caused by a gradual blockage of the outflow of aqueous humor, the fluid in the front compartment of the eye.

If the pressure gets too high, the small internal blood vessels and the optic nerve fibers become compressed, eventually causing irreversible damage, with loss of vision or complete blindness.

In fact, about 15% of blindness in adults is due to glaucoma.

Acute vs chronic

The simple type of chronic glaucoma is known as "open-angle" glaucoma. It usually affects both eyes, has a genetic component, and is more common among diabetics.

There is also an acute type of glaucoma, which can become chronic, known as "closed angle" or "angle-closure" glaucoma; this type can rapidly lead to vision loss and there may be obvious symptoms, such as severe eye pain. This is considered an emergency condition, treated by drugs (internal and topical), and sometimes by surgery.

Patients are always referred out to an ophthalmologist prior to starting treatment with Chinese medicine, as glaucoma can be an emergency.

Chinese medicine patterns of glaucoma

In the absence of pressure testing, conducted by tonometry devices, chronic open-angle glaucoma is essentially asymptomatic. The person may experience headaches, and one simply experiences deteriorating vision, which can have numerous other causes.

Thanks to the introduction of the diagnostic tool for glaucoma came the Western understanding of the disease nature, that is, a fluid-pressure in the eye. This Western description was then translated by Chinese doctors into a traditional Chinese description.

Fire, Blood & Fluids blockage

The TCM description for glaucoma is that a fire syndrome is generated internally which carries fluids upwards, congesting in the eyes. For those who experience glaucoma at a relatively early age (under age 55), the most likely cause of the fire syndrome is a chronic stagnation syndrome.

The common stagnation syndromes are

  • liver qi stagnation

  • fluid accumulation

  • blood stasis

If any of these persist for an extended period of time, one can experience a secondary fire syndrome.

Chinese herbs are proven efficient to reduce IOP

To treat glaucoma with traditional methods, one would use a combination of

  • herbs to drain the accumulated fluid from the eyes

  • herbs to decrease the internal fire that drives the fluids upward to cause pressure.

  • reduce the underlying root cause of accumulation and stagnation

Wu Ling San

In recent years, many Chinese physicians have adjusted this formula by adding a large dose of plantago seed, which also has a fluid-draining action. It is appropriate to treating glaucoma because plantago is said to clear away heat, promote diuresis, and improve visual acuity (2).

Jia Wei Xiao Yao San

The primary formula for removing heat associated with liver qi stagnation , Xiao Yao San is a widely used ancient formula that addresses disorders of liver qi stagnation, especially when fluid accumulation and heat is involved (it contains hoelen and atractylodes for draining dampness).

Ling Yang Jiao San

In cases where fluid accumulation (usually in the form f thickened fluid: phlegm) causes fire, a traditional prescription (3) that is commonly relied upon is modified Antelope Horn Powder

(Ling Yang Jiao San).

Qi Ju Di Huang Tang

In the event that deficiency of yin essences results in dominance of yang, one often relies on Rehmannia Six Formula (Liu Wei Di Huang Tang) as a prescription for nourishing the yin, or the modified version, Lycium, Chrysanthemum, and Rehmannia Formula (Qi Ju Di Huang Tang), which adds the two herbs in the formula name; they help treat eye disorders that are due to liver yin deficiency and liver fire.

In one study (5) involving 55 patients, Hoelen Five Herb Formula was utilized.

It was reported that as a result of the treatment, 63.6% of all the affected eyes showed a significant decline in pressure after just one month.

No adverse effects of treatment were reported.

In the other large study (7), the specially-designed formula Xie Gan Jie Yu Tang was utilized. There were 29 patients, most having the open-angle type of glaucoma. Of 25 eyes affected by the open-glaucoma type, 17 (68%) attained normal pressure by the treatment, and 5 more could remain normal only if 1% pilocarpine drops (a standard Western medical therapy) were continued.

As these studies indicate, using herbal formulas internally can result in about 2/3 of affected eyes having an improvement in the pressure without use of drug therapies.

Acupuncture reduces intra-ocular pressure

We see many patients with glaucoma at taproot, and most of them come for a weekly session for 3 months, then maintenance every other week or even monthly. They mostly report stabilization of their eye (under monitoring of an eye doctor), and some report improved visual acuity too.

Lowering intraocular pressure (IOP) is the only method proven for treating glaucoma.

Several studies have discovered that acupuncture can reduce IOP and also increase ocular perfusion and ocular blood flow.

No matter where you are in your eye health journey,

if you need support, we can help.

In addition to our own team of specialized acupuncturists, we are well-connected within the Los Angeles- Pasadena area community to help you

find the right integrative and holistic care for you.

On our website, you can learn more about our services, and book an appointment.

If you have more questions please call our front desk, at 626-841-2991, or email us.



Chao L, Na L, Bin L, Botao Z, Shuaijie L. A meta-analysis of neuroprotective effect for traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) in the treatment of glaucoma. Open Med (Wars). 2016;11(1):25-30. Published 2016 Feb 22. doi:10.1515/med-2016-0006


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