Acupuncture for macular degeneration shows promise in research, but experts believe more high quality evidence is needed before this form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) can be a mainstay of treatment.

Acupuncture is a form of traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) that’s been used for thousands of years. It involves the insertion of delicate, thin needles into the skin in areas of your body corresponding to the condition you’re experiencing.

While the exact underlying mechanisms of acupuncture aren’t well understood, it may provide health benefits by altering nervous system function, stimulating tissue directly, and generating nonspecific psychological responses.

Most of the research supporting acupuncture is focused on pain relief, but a growing number of people are also looking at acupuncture to treat eye conditions such as macular degeneration.

There’s some evidence that acupuncture can help macular degeneration, an eye disease known clinically as age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

But the evidence that exists is often viewed as low quality, and more high quality studies are necessary before acupuncture can unquestionably be declared as a treatment option.

A 2022 review into TCM for AMD concluded that TCM approaches showed promise, but the lack of scientific evidence behind these practices limits their use.

Additionally, a 2023 review found that acupuncture may improve certain aspects of AMD, such as central macular thickness. But the quality of the evidence was labeled as “low” to “very low,” and only nine studies out of 226 met the criteria for inclusion in the research.

Overall, the review authors stated that acupuncture treatment has potential in AMD, but more rigorously designed research studies are necessary to support the technique’s success.

More quality evidence appears to be necessary for the use of acupuncture in other eye disorders, as well.

An overview from 2020 notes the bias existing in current research studies prevents the validity of acupuncture for eye disorder treatment from being confirmed.

What about micro acupuncture for macular degeneration?

Also known as emayaoling acupuncture, micro acupuncture is a relatively new form of acupuncture that employs a more focused, intensive acupuncture application.

While a 2017 study found emayaoling acupuncture produced better clinical outcomes in early AMD compared with traditional acupuncture, even less research exists on the benefits of this specific approach.

The benefits of acupuncture treatment for macular degeneration have roots in TCM theory and the scientific method theory.

Acupuncture points for macular degeneration

In TCM theory, diseases are the result of an imbalance of qi, your natural flow of vital energy.

Acupuncture is used as a tool in TCM to manipulate blood, bodily fluids, and qi by stimulating the meridians, organ-specific energy channels throughout your body.

AMD in TCM theory is associated with the spleen channel of foot taiyin, also known as the spleen meridian, because the macula is yellowish and yellow in TCM corresponds with the spleen.

Since blood flood is also considered essential to eye function in TCM, AMD is additionally linked to the liver meridian.

TCM theory states that when spleen-qi movement becomes impaired, it can cause macular blood to flow out of the blood vessels. To regulate this, acupuncture focuses on the spleen and liver channels to help regulate qi and blood flow in the eyes.

Scientific method theories

Outside of TCM theory, scientific method theories seek to explain how acupuncture for macular degeneration works.

In the previously mentioned 2023 review, researchers indicate acupuncture may help lower oxidative stress through localized tissue reactions that promote redox homeostasis, the balance of antioxidants and their counterparts.

Acupuncture may also improve microcirculation in the macular region. This circulation boost can help your body eliminate fluid buildup and hemorrhaging in the macular area and may improve the supply of nutrients necessary for healthy eye function.

AMD is a degenerative eye condition associated with aging. It affects the part of your retina called the macula, which is responsible for central vision.

Two types of AMD exist: dry AMD and wet AMD.

In dry AMD, the most common form of AMD according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, the macula becomes thinner with age and accumulates clumps of protein known as drusen. There may be no symptoms in the early stages of dry AMD, but as it progresses, you may notice:

  • blurriness in your central vision
  • distortion of shapes objects
  • lines appear wavy, bent, or crooked
  • color distortion
  • dark or blank spot in your central vision

Wet AMD is associated with faster vision loss. It occurs when abnormal blood vessels grow around the retina, leaking blood or fluid and causing inflammation, edema, and scarring over time.

Symptoms of wet AMD are the same as dry AMD, and dry AMD can turn into wet AMD at any stage.

Current research indicates acupuncture may hold more promise for the treatment of dry macular degeneration rather than wet AMD.

Wet AMD is associated with more advanced vision loss and the later stages of AMD. Once central vision has been lost to AMD, it can’t be restored.

According to the 2022 review, the use of acupuncture for macular degeneration is considered safe in a clinical setting with no obvious side effects.

In general, correctly applied acupuncture comes with few adverse reactions. Negative side effects are typically the result of improper technique application or the use of nonsterile needles and can include:

  • infection
  • punctured organs
  • central nervous system injury

It’s not uncommon to experience soreness, bruising, or irritation at the site of needle insertion. Some people report muscle twitches or fatigue.

You may also notice a tingling, numbing, or “heavy” sensation in your body during the session.

A 2021 review indicates the most common acupuncture-related reactions are bleeding, pain, or flare ups at the needle insertion site, although some practitioners argue these responses are intended acupuncture reactions.

The verdict is still out on the use of acupuncture for macular degeneration. While research does support the benefits of this TCM technique for AMD, the low quality of existing evidence keeps its validity in question.

More high quality research is necessary to solidify the benefits of acupuncture for AMD, which potentially include improved microcirculation and the reduction of oxidative stress.