Macular degeneration - what to do
What is macular degeneration?
Macular degeneration is a progressive disease which affects central vision. At first objects directly in front become blurred and indistinct, then gradually loss sets in, so that by the late stage, central vision is completely lost. Normally peripheral vision is retained, so there is the possibility of leading some sort of normal life, though at this stage the person cannot read or drive a car.
Orthodox medical treatment
In the last 10 years it has been found that a drug called Lucentis, originally developed for reducing the proliferation of veins in cancers is also effective in reducing recently formed veins proliferating over the macula in wet-type macular degeneration. It is not a very pleasant treatment, as it involves injection directly into the eye. However, there are often significant improvements, and the short-term side effects are infrequent. The most common side effect is pain in the eye from the injection, and this can be considerably helped by taking homoeopathic Ledum (which is specific for puncture wounds, as opposed to Arnica, which is more for bruising).
This treatment is not suitable for dry-type MD, nor is it routinely given to younger patients, as the long term effects are not yet known.
More detailed information about the orthodox medical approach can be found on the NHS web site by clicking here
What else can be done?
There are a number of ways in which macular degeneration can be helped. Usually the progressive deterioration can be slowed down or even halted. In some cases there is even some improvement.
There are two ways in which acupuncture can help. One is to bring energy to the affected eye(s) and the other is to help the overall body condition.
Bringing energy to the eyes is something that acupuncture is especially good at. Using points close to the eye can have a dramatic effect on local energy, and sometimes just a few treatments will start the healing process. The main difficulty is that the points usually require deep needling, and the practitioner must be adequately trained for this to be a safe procedure.
Regulating energetic imbalances in the whole body and boosting overall energy is something that most acupuncture practitioners are trained to do. Normally treatments are given twice a week to begin with then once a week, for a length of time which depends on each individual circumstances., but which is likely to be at least six months A good practitioner will be able to give you some idea of the number of visits that may be required to improve the energy.
A note about styles of acupuncture
There are many styles of acupuncture, most of which have antecedents in China, even though they may now go under Japanese or Korean names. There are also newer styles, such as ear acupuncture, hand acupuncture, and even ‘medical’ acupuncture, which are based on newer theories. Even amongst these widely differing groups, there are sub-groups. For example, within the group that calls themselves traditional Chinese, there are those who focus mainly on symptoms, and others who almost ignore symptoms, in order to focus on deeper underlying imbalances.
In our experience there is no one method which has all the answers for everyone, and it is very much up to the individual to find their own suitable practitioner.
For those who cannot obtain acupuncture treatment, we can advise the use of microcurrent stimulation. This involves stimulating the eyes with tiny electric currents – so small that they cannot be felt. The method is to place a moistened pad on each eyelid and connect each one to the electrodes of the stimulator. The current is gradually increased to the point where it can just be felt, then to reduce it slightly so that it is just not felt. The current level needed to produce this sensation is in the region of 50 microamps. The pads are left in place and the current passed for about 5 minutes, during which time the pulse frequency is reduced in steps from a stimulating frequency to a relaxing one.
Suitable stimulators are available from www.microstim.com. Unfortunately there are, at present, no European distributors, and it can be somewhat tiresome negotiating British customs.
The massages given elsewhere on this web site are helpful in bringing energy to the eyes. On their own they may not be effective in slowing the progress of MD, but they are very useful as an adjunct to other treatments. For example, they may be used to replace one of the twice-daily ear acupuncture treatments (see below). If the massages are done for at least 5 minutes, three times a day, then one acupuncture session a day may well be enough.
Herbal medicine, particularly Chines herbs and Ayurvedic herbs have a long tradition of use in eye problems. As with acupuncture, there are two components, one to strengthen the whole body, and the other to strengthen the eyes specifically. The main centre in Europe for Chinese herbal therapy for eye conditions is in Munich. Otherwise practitioners of both these therapies are relatively thin on the ground in most parts of Europe, and it is even rarer to find a practitioner with experience in eye conditions. However, it is another avenue to pursue.
There are a number of food supplements (minerals and vitamins) which are helpful in nourishing the eyes. These are particularly recommended for older people, who do not absorb foods so well, and whose appetite is considerably less than when they were young. Prescribing these supplements is a specialised field, and we advise consulting an experienced nutritionist.
An acupuncturist in Denmark, Dr. Boel, has developed a system of treating a wide range of retinal problems using ear acupuncture. His treatment is intensive, requiring treatment twice a day for two weeks, then every day for a week, then three times a week for the next two weeks and so on. This obviously requires commitment and involves considerable expense, but the results are very good. He and his family run courses, and have trained many practitioners on the continent.
His methods are simple and easy to learn, much as the 5-needle protocol for drug rehabilitation. Some details for the acupuncturist are given in this link. The main problem is finding a practitioner of ear acupuncture sufficiently close who is willing to do the treatments.