The results of a new collaboration involving Western and traditional Chinese medicine could prove to be a sight for sore eyes – literally.

Researchers tested a technique using eye drops and acupuncture to treat a common condition called “dry eye”, which causes redness and inflammation around the eyes.

Some 150 dry eye patients aged 40 to 85 were split into three groups of 50: one group was given eye drops and acupuncture, one was given eye drops and herbal medicine, and one received eye drops alone.

After eight 20-minute sessions of treatment over 30 days, the group which received eye drops and acupuncture recorded the biggest improvement, of 88 per cent.

Acupuncture was applied to patients’ legs, hands and face.

Results were measured by a hightech device with a camera and diagnostic instrument to observe the patients’ corneas, as well as through interviews and questionnaires. No negative side effects were observed.

The study was part of a threeyear collaboration between the Singapore Eye Research Institute (SERI) and Singapore Chung Hwa Medical Institution (SCHMI). The project received almost $290,000 in funding from the Ministry of Health's (MOH) TCM Research Grant over three years.

Optician Tan Hwa Moi, who participated in the tests, said: “The needle feels like an ant bite and after that, I think it feels OK.”

The study’s principal investigator and principal clinician scientist at SERI, Professor Louis Tong, said: “Dry eye is very much a condition that stems from modern living.

“Most adults are prone to this due to poor dietary habits, lack of proper sleep and exercise, as well as prolonged computer use.”

He added that it is impractical to treat all dry eye cases in hospitals, and there needs to be a “community approach” to manage the condition while alternative treatments should be considered.

The study’s principal collaborator, Dr Pat Lim, said: “TCM ophthalmology was established more than a thousand years ago and we believe by integrating the strengths of Western and traditional Chinese medicine, we can develop the ultimate solution for serving our eye patients in the near future.”

Mr Liew Siaw Foo, board chairman of SCHMI, added: “We also hope that integrated medicine can be adopted as the new direction for healthcare services in Singapore, thereby providing patients with the most convenient and therapeutic advantages.”

The future evaluation of the study will depend on the funding received. Currently, dry eye patients can undergo private treatment at institutions like SCHMI.