Background: Patients with retinitis pigmentosa are motivated to try complementary or integrative therapies to slow disease progression. Basic science, clinical research and retinitis pigmentosa patients' self-reports support the hypothesis that acupuncture may improve visual function.
Methods: A prospective, case series, pilot study enrolled 12 adult patients with RP treated at an academic medical centre with a standardised protocol that combined electroacupuncture to the forehead and below the eyes and acupuncture to the body, at 10 half-hour sessions over two weeks. Pre- and post-treatment tests included Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study visual acuity (VA), Pelli-Robson contrast sensitivity (CS), Goldmann visual fields, and dark-adapted full-field stimulus threshold (FST)(n = 9). Scotopic Sensitivity Tester-1 (SST-1) dark-adaptometry was performed on the last two subjects.
Results: Six of 12 subjects had measurable, significant visual function improvements after treatment. Three of nine subjects tested with the FST had a significant 10.3 to 17.5 dB (that is, 13- to 53-fold) improvement in both eyes at one week after acupuncture, maintained for at least 10 to 12 months, which was well outside typical test-retest variability (95% CI: 3-3.5 dB) previously found in retinitis pigmentosa. SST-1 dark-adaptation was shortened in both subjects tested on average by 48.5 per cent at one week (range 36 to 62 per cent across 10 to 30 dB), which was outside typical coefficients of variation of less than 30 per cent previously determined in patients with retinitis pigmentosa and normals. Four of the five subjects with psychophysically measured scotopic sensitivity improvements reported subjective improvements in vision at night or in dark environments. One subject had 0.2 logMAR improvement in VA; another had 0.55 logCS improvement. Another subject developed more than 20 per cent improvement in the area of the Goldmann visual fields. The acupuncture protocol was completed and well tolerated by all, without adverse events or visual loss.
Conclusions: Acupuncture entails minimal risk, if administered by a well-trained acupuncturist and may have significant, measurable benefits on residual visual function in patients with retinitis pigmentosa, in particular scotopic sensitivity, which had not previously been studied. These preliminary findings support the need for future controlled studies of potential mechanisms.
Keywords: acupuncture; low vision; retinitis pigmentosa.
© 2013 The Authors. Clinical and Experimental Optometry © 2013 Optometrists Association Australia.