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NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - Adding to past evidence, acupuncture plus wearing glasses might help kids get over "lazy eye," a new study says.
In kids 3 to 7 years old, acupuncture plus glasses helped vision improve compared with just glasses alone, said study co-author Dr. Dennis Shun-Chiu Lam, who chairs the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
Amblyopia, or lazy eye, is when vision in one eye is worse than the other. About two to three in 100 people have lazy eye, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. (It's not the same as "wandering eye," or strabismus -- when the eyes point in two different directions -- although people often use "lazy eye" to describe both.)
At the beginning of the study, all of the kids' vision in the bad eye was about the same, around 20/63. The kids who got acupuncture as well as glasses had about 20/32 vision in their bad eye, on average. This is compared to about 20/40 vision in kids that only wore the glasses.
The difference between 20/32 and 20/40 is about the equivalent of being able to read about one line further down on the eye chart, said Dr. Marc Lustig, an assistant professor in department of ophthalmology at the New York University Medical Center.
But there's not much of a difference between these two vision scores in real-life terms, Lustig, who did not work on the study, told Reuters Health. And this study is not going to change how eye doctors treat lazy eye in kids, he noted.
Lazy eye is usually treated with glasses or patches to train the bad eye to work better, he said.
If left untreated, kids may lose depth perception, or the vision loss may become permanent. After age 9 or so, it can no longer be corrected, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
A previous study by the same group suggested that acupuncture may work as well as patches for treating lazy eye. (See Reuters Health story of December 16, 2010.)
The researchers gave 83 kids with lazy eye in China corrective glasses, then measured how well they could see out of both eyes. Half of the kids were treated with acupuncture five times a week for 15 weeks, then the groups switched. Their eyes were tested at 15, 30, and 60 weeks.
After 30 weeks, when both groups had received both the glasses and acupuncture, vision in the bad eye was around 20/30 in both groups.
The study, published in the journal Ophthalmology, was what's called a crossover study. That meant that the groups' treatments alternated, so that both had some time with only glasses, and with and without acupuncture.
"With a crossover design, every child would be promised to have a chance to receive acupuncture, so that it is easier to recruit study subjects and lower the dropout rate," Lam told Reuters Health by email.
This is a serious limitation, said Dr. Peter Lipson, an internist in southeastern Michigan, who did not work on the study.
"I don't think there's any malicious intent, but if you already know that these are people who like acupuncture, they're going to be extremely susceptible to a nice placebo effect," he told Reuters Health.
Since both groups received the acupuncture, this anticipation of benefit would be similar in both groups, Lam said, and the placebo effect should have been minimized.
Overall, past research has shown that acupuncture is something that makes use of the placebo effect, Lipson said, "which a warm handshake and a smile can do as well."
Acupuncture costs vary widely depending on where you live, but ranges anywhere from $25 to $120 a treatment. At this rate, the treatments in the study would cost somewhere between $1,875 and $9,000. Disposable patches cost about $10 a month, Lustig said.
It's an interesting study, he said, "but I don't think it's going to change clinical practice in Western medicine, because you're taking an un-invasive treatment and kind of making it invasive."
"At least in the U.S., I don't see people sending their 5-year-olds for acupuncture," Lustig said.
SOURCE: bit.ly/gBNUUs Ophthalmology, online April 3, 2011.