Acupuncture Improves Subjective Postoperative Dry Eye Scores

Acupuncture Around Woman's Eye
Subjective surveys and objective tests assess acupuncture’s effect on dry eye after procedures such as LASIK.

Acupuncture, when combined with traditional treatments, can be “a feasible treatment for dry eye syndrome after refractive surgery,” according to a publication in Integrative Medicine Research. The pilot study evaluated the potential benefits of supplementary acupuncture to treat dry eye symptoms in patients who develop them after refractive surgery. Dry eye is the most common complication of refractive surgery, the report says.

The exploratory trial demonstrated that 4-week acupuncture therapy, added to usual postoperative care for dry eye, is a useful and safe option. Primary outcomes were evaluated with the ocular surface disease index (OSDI) administered at baseline and weeks 3, 5, and 13. Objective tests at the screening appointment and final 13-week visit included tear film break-up time, Schirmer 1 test, and fluorescein-stained corneal-surface photography.

Researchers noted a significant difference in the trends of OSDI changes between the acupuncture-plus-usual-care and the usual-care-only groups (P =.0039). These improvements did not persist to the end of an 8-week follow up. Both quality-of-life surveys and the visual analog scale (VAS) for ocular discomfort assessments revealed comparable results with OSDI. However, the objective tear film break-up time and Schirmer tests revealed no significant differences in outcome between the groups.

Upon recruitment, 18 participants met inclusion requirements, which included an age between 18 years and 65 years old, having undergone refractive surgery within the previous 24 months, and having a diagnosis of dry eye syndrome based on measures such as the VAS of 40 or greater, and tear film break-up time 10 seconds or fewer. The study took place at a clinical research center of the Korean Medicine Hospital at Daejeon University, South Korea from November 2012–December 2013. 

Participants were randomly assigned, 9 each, to the acupuncture treatment or usual-care-only control group. Those receiving acupuncture underwent treatments 3 times per week for a total of 12 sessions. Sessions comprised 17 acupuncture points, with the “de-qi” sensation stimulated by twisting acupuncture — needles remained for 20 minutes. No severe adverse events were noted in either study group. The investigators who evaluated outcomes were blinded to participants’ assigned treatment set, but participants were not, due to the nature of the study design. Participants lost to follow-up included 2 in the acupuncture set and 1 in the control group.

In total, 5 participants in the usual care-plus acupuncture group, and 8 in the usual care-only group continued their use of artificial tears throughout the study period.

Previous studies have evaluated acupuncture as a treatment for dry eye symptoms, but this is the first to review acupuncture to treat dry eye following refractive surgery


Lee JH, Han K, Kim TH, et al. Acupuncture for dry eye syndrome after refractive surgery: A randomized controlled pilot trial. Integr Med Res. 2021;10(1):100456. doi:10.1016/j.imr.2020.100456.