Saturday, May 31, 2008

TCM for childhood myopia

TCM for childhood myopia

WHEN Ms Fun's eight-year-old daughter was diagnosed in school with early myopia, she did what few mothers here would have done. Rather than take her child to an optical shop for a fitting, she enrolled her in a course of acupuncture treatment instead.

'I don't want her to be wearing spectacles at such a young age, so I looked around for alternative treatments,' says Ms Fun, 42, whose older daughter is also myopic.

Indeed, it is still a little known fact here, but the World Health Organisation recognises myopia as one of the conditions that could benefit from traditional Chinese medication (TCM) related treatments.

'In TCM, myopia is associated with deficiency in blood and qi, or energy,' explains physician Wu Yue, a veteran acupuncturist with more than 20 years of experience. According to him, childhood myopia is particularly treatable if the condition is diagnosed in its early stages.

'Young children who have had mild myopia for less than six months benefit the most from acupuncture and acupressure. For some, the condition is even reversible and the child may regain perfect eyesight,' says Mr Wu, who has been treating patients at Raffles Hospital's Chinese Medicine Centre for the past several years.

Studies have shown that the prevalence of myopia in Asian countries is as high as 70 per cent, compared with about 30 per cent in the United States and just 10 per cent in some African countries.

One reason for this discrepancy is the difference in lifestyle.

'Myopia is, in some ways, a lifestyle condition. Children here are computer savvy from a very young age and their eyes could be over-used. Bad reading posture and even nutritional imbalance could all contribute to myopia,' explains Mr Wu.

A recent study jointly conducted by medical schools in Singapore and Australia comparing the level of myopia in six and seven-year-old Chinese kids in Singapore and Sydney validated Mr Wu's assessment of the problem.

The study's results, which were published just last month in Arch Ophthalmol, a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal, showed that the prevalence of myopia was significantly higher in Singapore (29.1 per cent) than in Sydney (3.3 per cent), leading researchers to conclude that the unfavourable outcome in Singapore was associated with too few hours of outdoor activities and our early educational pressures.

How TCM helps

To understand myopia, it is necessary to have a basic knowledge of what's involved in the eye's focusing system. These include the cornea, lens and retina. The cornea is a tough, transparent tissue that lies in front of the iris, the coloured part of the eye. The lens is a double-convex structure located behind the iris, while the retina is a thin membrane that lines the rear of the eyeball.

Light-sensitive retina cells convert incoming light rays into signals that are sent along the optic nerve to the brain, which then interprets the images.

In the myopic eye, the focusing power of the cornea and the lens is too great, resulting in what is called a refractive error. In other words, an overly focused, fuzzy image is sent to the brain.

In TCM, acupuncture is used on the eye muscles, causing changes in the shape of the eyeball and thus, may help to correct nearsightedness.

'There are two types of acupuncture available for young children. The first uses magnetic seeds, or adhesive ear point seeds, while the second uses extra fine needles,' explains Mr Wu.

The former, which is also sometimes called auricular acupuncture, features a tiny pearl-like 'seed' which can be stuck to the various acu-points on the ear by way of a small square of plaster. According to Mr Wu, this method is totally painless and is often recommended for use by the very young.

'All you need to do is leave it on the ear for one or two days each time,' he says. Each session would require about four or five 'seeds' to be administered.

Alternatively, for those who can stand a small amount of pain, traditional acupuncture with very fine needles are used around the eyes and forehead. This form of treatment, however, must be performed by an experienced acupuncturist, as there's danger of blood vessels bursting.

'There are several delicate blood vessels around the eyes, so if the needle is not properly inserted, or if it is off the mark, there could be bleeding, or worse, the whole eye could become horribly swollen,' cautions Mr Wu.

He warns that an experienced hand is needed for such delicate jobs, even though the needles are usually placed about an inch from the eyeballs.

'Acupuncture around the face is truly an art. It takes many years of training and practice to be able to insert the needle precisely so as not to cause damage,' says Mr Wu, who strongly advises all parents to turn to an established clinic or physician for such treatments. According to him, approximately 20 sessions - about three to six months of treatment - followed by daily eye exercises are needed to see significant and prolonged results.

In addition to treatment, patients may also be prescribed certain traditional Chinese herbs which have long been associated with eye conditions. These may include ju hua (chrysanthemum flower); gou qi zi (Chinese wolfberry) and huai hua mi (pagoda tree flower).

'The important thing to note about myopia in young children is this - do not be in a hurry to get them fitted with spectacles, because the eye is still developing and the myopia may not have stabilised,' says Mr Wu.

This story was first published in The Business Times on May 17, 2008.

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