(RxWiki News) Rates of nearsightedness, or myopia, have increased dramatically over the last few decades. But new evidence suggests that medicated eye drops may be the key to fighting this global issue.
A new study from Singapore found that drops of low-dose atropine may significantly slow the progression of nearsightedness in children — with fewer side effects than higher doses. Atropine is already commonly used to treat lazy eye, or amblyopia.
"For a long time we've known that atropine drops can help keep myopia from getting worse to some degree," said lead study author Donald T. Tan, FRCS, FRCOphth, a professor of ophthalmology at the Singapore Eye Research Institute, in a press release. "We now have data showing that it is not only effective, but also safe. Combined with other interventions, this treatment could become a great ally in preventing myopia from causing serious visual impairment in children worldwide."
For this study, Dr. Tan and team looked at 400 nearsighted children ages 6 to 12 over the span of five years. These children were randomly assigned a daily dose of atropine at concentrations of either 0.5, 0.1 or 0.01 percent.
After two years, these researchers stopped the medication for 12 months. For children whose vision became worse during that year, another round of atropine was started at 0.01 percent for two more years.
At the study's end, Dr. Tan and team found that children assigned to the lowest dose of atropine were the least nearsighted of all groups. This dose was also found to slow myopia progression by an estimated 50 percent and cause less pupil dilation and vision loss than the higher doses.
About 9 percent of children in the low-dose group did not respond to the drops, however.
While low-dose atropine appeared to be safe for use in children, these researchers said more research is still needed.
According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), more than 80 million children worldwide are nearsighted — making it a significant public health concern. While this condition can be corrected with glasses or contacts, severe nearsightedness also increases the risk of serious eye problems.
This study was presented Nov. 16 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Research presented at conferences may not have been peer-reviewed.
The National Medical Research Council and SingHealth funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.