“Brighten the Eyes”

This post is copied from our older, original blog. Original post date 11/6/2013.

By Marcie Bower, Lic.Ac.

Want to maintain healthy eyes? Try acupuncture!

Many people know that acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can be useful therapies for things like back pain, whiplash, anxiety, and headaches.  But most people, in this country at least, probably don’t immediately think of acupuncture when dealing with eye and vision problems. However, in many circumstances, these traditional Chinese therapies can be useful remedies for problems with the eyes.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective, eye issues are associated with a disturbance in the Liver energy of the body. (Please remember that when we talk about energy systems and meridians in Chinese Medicine, these systems are named after biological organs. However, there is no direct correlation between the two – you can have a problem with the Liver energy from an acupuncture perspective, but your physical Liver is likely in a state of perfect health!)

The Liver meridian “opens into the eyes” and thus blockages in its energy flow can have a direct impact on the eyes. There are many different types of energy in the Liver meridian, and a pathology in any of these levels can cause eye problems. If there is a weakness in the Liver Blood energy, for instance, a patient may experience blurry vision or sandy-feeling eyes, and may have spots or floaters in their field of vision. If there is a weakness in the Liver Yin energy (the cool, watery, passive energy of the body), a patient may experience chronic dry eyes. Weaknesses of both of these kinds of energy can create a sort of vacuum in the Liver meridian, which is sometimes filled by an erratic energy called Liver Wind. In this case, eye symptoms may include very itchy eyes, or twitches in the muscles around the eye. When the Liver Qi energy is stuck, it can generate heat, which may lead to chronically red or burning eyes. This also happens when the Yin energy (cool watery energy) is not strong enough to hold the Yang energy (hot and fiery energy), and the Yang energy rises to the eyes. We think of this kind of pathology when someone has a very short temper and gets red eyes when they are really mad. An accumulation of Dampness (abnormal fluid accumulation) in the Liver meridian can cause goopy eyes. Blood energy stagnation in the Liver system can cause more long-term, severe eye pain, redness, swelling, and pressure.

A well-trained acupuncturist will spend time with a patient asking about all these different kinds of symptoms, depending on the eye condition present. Treatment will vary depending on the underlying pathomechanism of the symptoms from a Traditional Chinese Medicine perspective. (In other words, treatment depends on WHY your eyes are itchy and red – is it an acute invasion of heat and wind into the Liver channel, such as with allergies or a cold? Is it due to Qi energy not flowing properly and therefore generating heat? Is the itchiness really stemming from dryness, from a longer-term Yin energy weakness? Etc.)

Biomedical research into use of acupuncture and Chinese Herbs for eye issues is still in its early stages. However, preliminary studies have shown that these modalities may be useful in treating the following:

Amblyopia (“lazy eye”) in children

Diabetic retinopathy


Occular Migraine (and other ophthamological pain)

Macular Degeneration

Dry eyes

Styes (note that the cited study here had a very small sample size, so few population-wide conclusions should be derived. However, clinical practice supports this positive finding.)


It is hard to design clinical trials to test preventative medicine. However, Traditional Chinese Medicine is steeped in an understanding of maintaining health, rather than curing disease. This means that regular acupuncture treatments could potentially prevent eye issues down the road, by maintaining the balance of energies within the Liver system and continuing to “brighten the eyes”, as the traditional medical texts say.