According to traditional Chinese medicine (TCM), the eyes relate to the internal organs. In Chinese medicine, each part of the eye is associated with a particular element and corresponding zang organ. The iris is represented by the liver zang. The heart zang relates to the corners of the eyes or the canthi, the upper and lower eyelids correspond to the spleen, the conjunctiva the lung, and the pupil the kidney.
Chinese medicine recognizes six environmental, or external, pathogens that can lead to vision loss. A person's resistance to environmental pathogenic factors is based on how healthy their immune system is, which, in turn, is a function of qi (a person’s energy, similar to a life force). Basically, if a person has strong qi and good resistance, he or she can ward off potential hazards associated with these external factors. According to TCM, a person with poor qi flow or imbalances in qi in any of the zang organs relating to the parts of the eye will have decreased resistance to the six specific environmental pathogens that can influence vision.
Environmental Pathogenic Factors Affecting the Eyes:
Heat - Leads to swelling, inflammation, and the redness commonly found in many eye diseases such as conjunctivitis
Cold - Will yield pain and slow vision loss over time, as in chronic degenerative conditions such as macular degeneration and glaucoma
Wind - Results in sudden and dramatic onset of vision loss
Dampness - Causes secretion of mucus, and swelling
Dryness - Results in dry itchy eyes and redness
Summer Heat - Inflammation and mucus discharge
These pathogens can damage the eyes and possibly cause vision loss. Many of these influences are closely related to the seasons and commonly arise during seasonal changes. Wind and fire are associate with the eyes in acute cases. These are considered “Yang conditions of the eye.” Wind is the leading pathogenic factor, and can often lead to other environmental “evils” affecting the eyes. Wind is characterized by rapid change and sudden onset. Fire is characterized by inflammation, ulceration, and redness. Other pathogenic factors can easily be turned into fire toxin.
The other environment pathogens, cold and dampness, result in "Yin" conditions. According to TCM, the most common cause of poor vision is exposure to cold and dampness, which results in poor circulation to the eyes. The invasion of cold blocks the flow of qi, depriving the eyes of vital warmth and nourishment. Coldness also settles into the muscles, vessels, and skin around the eyes, resulting in further degeneration of visual acuity.
One of the foundations of Chinese medicine is the belief that no issue is an isolated problem, but rather, is rooted in a person’s overall wellbeing. This includes a person’s lifestyle, stress factors, diet, activity level, and genetic makeup. This is why a person’s qi—and any blockages in a person’s qi flow--profoundly affects the entire body. As Marc Grossman puts it in his article Healthy Eyes with Chinese Medicine, “The skin of the entire body is covered with tiny electric eyes known in Chinese medicine as acupuncture points. These points follow along the flow of energy streams called meridians. In Chinese medicine, when the meridians are flowing smoothly, there is neither pain nor illness. When blockages exist in the meridians, pain and illness result. Each acupuncture point is a window of heightened sensitivity close to the surface of the skin, providing the acupuncturist with easy access to the meridians to clear blockages.”
Acupuncture is a primary modality of traditional Chinese medicine, and can be used to treat some of the most well-known eye disorders such as retinitis pigmentosa (RP), glaucoma, and macular degeneration. Andy Rosenfarb, LAc, who has treated these eye conditions and many others, notes in his article Researching Retinitis Pigmentosa (Night Blindness) with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine that “Results have shown that acupuncture is clearly an effective means of managing most chronic and degenerative eye diseases. Results have shown measurable improvement in approximately 70-80% of all cases treated.”
However, TCM treatment for eye disorders and vision loss can also include the use of oral formulations of herbs in varying combination known to improve the eyes and related zang organs, and application of herbal heat using moxibustion (a technique that involves the heating of herbs).
Herbs used to Treat Eye Disorders:
Ju hua (chrysanthemum flower): Clears the liver. Improves red, eyes, and decreases excessive tearing, clears floaters, and blurred vision.
Qing Xiang Zi (Celosia Seeds): Used for painful, red, swollen eyes, and cataracts.
San Qi (Pseudiginseng Root): Repairs broken blood vessels in the eye, clears "blood spots",
Chan Tui (Cicada Moulting): Clears blurred vision and reduces redness, also used to treat painful, swollen eyes.
Mi Menghua (Buddleia Flower Bud): Improves sensitivity to light, and excessive tearing
Qou Qi Zi (Chinese Wolfberry Fruit or Lycium Fruit): Acts on liver and kidney deficiencies of Qi , correcting blurred vision and vision loss
Huai Hua Mi (Pagoda Tree Flower): Used to treat dizziness, blurred vision and red eyes due to liver heat.
Patients who have turned to TCM for the treatment of chronic eye conditions found that they have been able to significantly reduce their reliance on drugs and corticalsteroid eye drops. Many patients who sought TCM for their eye conditions also discovered that their eye condition was related to a different, seemingly unrelated, health concern such as eczema, asthma, and gastric distress. Patients discovered this when the other ‘unrelated’ issue improved in conjunction with the Chinese herbal remedy for the eye condition.
Grossman, Marc, O.D., L.Ac. “Healthy Eyes with Chinese Medicine”
Rosenfarb, Andy, ND, L.Ac. “Researching Retinitis Pigmentosa (Night Blindness) with Acupuncture and Chinese Medicine” Oriental Medicine Newspaper. February, 2012