Should You Use Acupuncture to Treat Dry Eye?

Dry eye is a condition in which your eyes do not make enough tears or the tears that are made are of poor quality. Dry eye symptoms can be a minor inconvenience or they can be severe enough to interfere with your quality of life. The list of natural remedies for dry eye is expanding. If you are looking to try a holistic treatment for your dry eye condition, some studies have shown that acupuncture can help.

This article will review what acupuncture is, the potential role of acupuncture for dry eye, and any risks or side effects associated with acupuncture.

What Is Dry Eye?

"Dry eye" is a term used to describe when your eyes do not make enough tears or the tears that they make are of poor quality.

Woman receiving acupuncture treatments.

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What Is Acupuncture?

Acupuncture originated in traditional Chinese medicine. Those who practice acupuncture support the idea that the body has more than 2,000 acupuncture points that are all connected by pathways, also called meridians. The pathways cause a flow of energy called "qi," which is pronounced "chee." This energy flow is said to play a role in your overall health.

To perform acupuncture, acupuncturists insert the tip of thin needles under the skin. The needles help to stimulate certain acupuncture points throughout the body.

Studies show that acupuncture is helpful for:

Acupuncture frequently is studied for how it may help all types of health problems, although researchers note that treatment oucomes are inconsistent.

Acupuncture and Dry Eye

It's not completely clear why acupuncture may help dry eye, but acupuncture is thought to reduce inflammation, which can be a problem for dry eye patients. Acupuncture also may help decrease chronic pain, another issue that some people with dry eye have.

Studies of acupuncture and dry eye show mostly good results, with an improvement in dry eye symptoms in participants. However, some of the studies are small, and more research on the topic is needed in general. Below is information about two studies focused on acupuncture and dry eye that give a flavor for the current research.

2019 Study

A 2019 randomized controlled trial (randomly assigning participants into an experimental group or a control group) compared 24 patients receiving real acupuncture against 25 patients receiving sham acupuncture treatments. In addition to observing objective dry eye test results, researchers had participants fill out a questionnaire called the Ocular Surface Disease Index to compare results.

After treatment, scores on the Ocular Surface Disease Index improved in both groups, but improvement was greater in the group that received real acupuncture. Among those receiving real acupuncture, though, no improvement was found among the dry eye diagnostic test results. However, at three months, there was a significant reduction in symptoms such as:

  • Discomfort in the eyes
  • Dryness
  • Redness
  • Scratchiness

2018 Analysis

A 2018 meta-analysis (an analysis combining results of multiple studies) reviewed randomized controlled trial findings that focused on acupuncture for dry eye with or without lubricating drops called artificial tears. Researchers looked into 19 studies with a total of 1,126 patients.

Among the studies analyzed, significant improvements were identified on two dry eye screening tests (the Schirmer test and breakup time test) when acupuncture was used compared with artificial tears. The use of acupuncture treatment for more than a month worked better than a shorter treatment period. Treatment of fewer than three times a week worked better than treatment that was more frequent.

Although acupuncture was more effective than artificial tears among the studies, the researchers concluded that there was a lot of variation.

Eye Acupuncture Points

There are several specific points on the face that an acupuncture practitioner may use to help treat dry eye. Here are names of some of the acupuncture points linked to dry eye treatment:

  • Jingming (BL1)
  • Cuanzhu (BL2)
  • Yangbai (GB 14)
  • Fengchi (GB 20)
  • Guangming (GB 37)
  • Hegu (LI 4)
  • Tàichōng (LR 3)
  • Sanyinjiao (SP 6)
  • Chengqi (ST1)
  • Sìbái (ST2)
  • Sizhukong (TE23)
  • Taiyang (Ex-HN5 or EXTRA1)

Risks and Side Effects

There are not many findings yet regarding risks or side effects associated with acupuncture for dry eye. A 2021 case study focused on a woman receiving acupuncture for dry eye who experienced some pain and a light flash during acupuncture. She was found to have damage to the retina, the light-sensitive tissue in the back of the eye. This indicates a potential risk of accidental injury to the eye during acupuncture.

Generally, acupuncture poses few side effects when it is performed by a trained professional who is using sterilized, single-use needles. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates acupuncture needles as medical devices.

You may feel a sting or slight ache from the acupuncture needles when they are placed in the skin. Some people experience bruising or bleeding at the insertion sites.

Infection was the main acupuncture side effect in a 2013 study, but this was primarily caused by practitioners reusing needles.

If acupuncture is not done properly, severe side effects can result, including injury to the nervous system or a punctured organ. This is why acupuncture should be performed only by a trained professional.

Acupuncture Is an Alternative Treatment

Remember that acupuncture is still an alternative treatment for dry eye. More research is needed to demonstrate how effective it actually is to help people with dry eye.

Other Natural Remedies

If you're looking for other natural remedies to help your dry eye in addition to acupuncture, there are a few things you can try, including:

  • Get a humidifier to add moisture to the air.
  • Try to avoid or reduce your exposure to warm, dry climates.
  • Use sunglasses when you are outside to protect yourself from exposure to elements like the wind. Some people find wraparound glasses more effective than standard pairs.
  • Cut down your direct exposure to air blown on the eyes. This could be from the air vents in your car, a hairdryer, or a fan. That air can make the eyes feel dry.
  • Consume more foods with omega-3 fatty acids. Some studies find that these can help with dry eye. Omega-3 fatty acids are found in oily fish like salmon and tuna and in flaxseeds. You also can take omega-3 fatty acids in a pill or tablet.
  • Stay hydrated throughout the day.
  • Adjust your computer setup. If you use a computer regularly, adjust it so you are looking at the screen slightly downwards. This helps the positioning of your eyes to reduce the chance of dry eye.
  • Blink more. Blinking helps to lubricate the eyes. Try to remember the 20-20-20 rule, which means every 20 minutes, look away from the screen to look at something 20 feet away for at least 20 seconds.


Acupuncture is an approach from traditional Chinese medicine that involves changing the "qi," or energy, in your body. Studies of acupuncture for dry eye have generally had good results, although most of the studies have been small and do not yet offer clear guidelines on how exactly to use acupuncture as part of dry eye treatment.

There are many available treatments for dry eye. Acupuncture may provide relief from dry eye symptoms for some people. However, you should only consider acupuncture if other traditional treatment methods have not helped. You also should discuss acupuncture first with your eye doctor.

A Word From Verywell

Dry eye syndrome is an irritating condition that can wear on you over time. Experiencing eye discomfort every day can be truly exasperating. However, while you may be eager to try anything that might help, it's always important to discuss new treatment options with your ophthalmologist (eye doctor) or other eye care professional. They can help you determine what kinds of treatments may help you the most.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Does acupuncture work?

    For many people, it does. Everyone's response to acupuncture may be a little different. Research has shown positive results from acupuncture to help with chronic pain, tension headaches, and migraines.

  • How does acupuncture work?

    Acupuncture works by targeting certain points in the body. These points are said to stimulate your nervous system. This can release chemicals in your body to help it heal better.

  • Does acupuncture hurt?

    The acupuncture needles may sting a little when they first enter the skin. Some people do not feel much of anything when the needles are inserted.

10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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  6. Lin T, Gong L, Liu X, Ma X. Fourier-domain optical coherence tomography for monitoring the lower tear meniscus in dry eye after acupuncture treatmentEvidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2015;2015:e492150. doi:10.1155/2015/492150

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By Vanessa Caceres
Vanessa Caceres is a nationally published health journalist with over 15 years of experience covering medical topics including eye health, cardiology, and more.