The eye is the special sensory organ which in Chinese Medicine is directly connected to the liver. The eyes require nourishment from the liver in order to see properly- if the liver is unable to do its job properly there can be blurred vision, floaters, colour blindness, dryness, soreness, itchiness, and other eye disorders. If problems continue uncorrected over time, they can develop into cataracts, or a clouding of the lens of the eye.

Symptoms of cataracts include clouded, blurred, or dim vision, loss of night vision, sensitivity to light and glare, halos around lights, fading or yellowing of colours, double vision in one eye, a need for brighter light when reading or doing other activities, and frequent changes in eye prescriptions. Eye surgery is now a very standard and safe procedure for cataract removal, however acupuncture is a gentle and safe treatment option that can offer help to cataracts and eye disorders, especially in the early stages.

From a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) perspective, cataracts most often are a result of one of three constitutional patterns. Although a cataract may not have developed, these patterns can eventually lead to cataracts of the eyes. An acupuncturist determines the underlying pattern according to the symptoms that the individual is experiencing.

The first pattern of cataracts develops from a weakness in the liver and kidneys. The liver relies on the kidneys for nourishment, and if the liver is healthy, the eyes will have good quality and clarity of the vision, whereas if the kidneys and liver are weak, vision will be unclear. People with this pattern may also have symptoms of dizziness, tinnitus (ringing in ears), weak and aching low back, and weak knees, along with unclear vision.

The second pattern of cataracts develops from a weakness in the spleen. The spleen has a function of transporting extracted nutrients from our food throughout our body, particularly in an upward direction, and when this organ loses its ability to do its job, the eyes lose their nourishment. People with this pattern have symptoms such as blurred vision, tiredness, fatigue, sallow complexion, poor appetite, and loose stools.

The third pattern develops from an excess of heat in the liver itself. This pattern can develop in many ways such as through an existing yin deficiency, blood deficiency, or even an emotional problem. With a build up of heat in the liver, people will have symptoms of headache, discomfort of the eyes, blurred vision, excessive secretion of mucus and tears from the eyes, bitter taste in the mouth, and even a dry throat.

All of these patterns of visual impairment can be helped through Chinese medicine by correcting the imbalance through acupuncture and lifestyle changes. In order to have great results with this problem, it’s always good to recognize any vision problems early on before the problems fully develop. I always tell people, regardless of their condition, that prevention is the best treatment for any disease. Risk factors for cataracts are age, diabetes, family history, previous eye injury, surgery or inflammation, prolonged use of cortical steroids, excessive exposure to sunlight, and smoking, so schedule eye check-ups regularly, especially if you fall into a higher risk category.

Acupuncture can help to strengthen eyes which are prone to vision problems, helping to correct or diminish problems and helping to prevent further problems down the road. However, if a problem has already developed, acupuncture can offer some support in slowing the speed of progression of this condition. Acupuncture is in fact a friendly, harmless and effective way of treating many different conditions as well as for maintaining health, and can also be safely combined with a patient’s other treatment methods to improve results.

James Kaufman is a Registered Acupuncturist at Okanagan Acupuncture Centre, 1625 Ellis St, Kelowna, BC.