- Researchers say using atropine eyedrops nightly in children ages 4 to 9 years can help minimize the progression of myopia, or nearsightedness.
- They note that untreated myopia in children can lead to more serious eye health issues later in life.
- Experts say parents can help with their children’s eye health by limiting screen time and making sure kids are outdoors more often.
New research suggests that administering an eyedrop can help delay — and possibly prevent — myopia in children.
Researchers in Hong Kong report that nightly use of an atropine eyedrop in children between the ages of 4 and 9 resulted in a significantly lower chance of developing myopia, or nearsightedness, after two years.
While more research will be needed to confirm and replicate the findings, the study’s lead author told Healthline that the data is promising — and could be a way to nip vision problems in the bud before they become a more serious issue later in life.
Nearsightedness is common
While myopia is generally simple to address — usually with corrective lenses or laser surgery — and not as serious as other eye problems — it’s still widespread.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) classifies myopia as a refractive error, a category that represents the most frequent eye problems in the United States.
Because vision degrades with age, the data from Hong Kong suggests that eyedrops early in life could be a way to prevent bigger problems down the line.
“Early onset myopia is associated with high myopia later in life and it’s irreversible,” explained Dr. Jason Yam, the lead study author and associate professor of ophthalmology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. “Therefore, delay in myopia onset can decrease the risk of high myopia and future complications. Our study established the most effective method to delay myopia onset.”
The research, funded by a variety of government-supported research funds and charities, found that eyedrops containing 0.05% atropine yielded the best results. The difference between these eyedrops and those containing either a placebo or 0.05% atropine was statistically significant.
Yam says that he and his colleagues are continuing to follow up with participants in the study to evaluate longer-term effects.
Optometrists already prescribing atropine
While the research adds to the body of knowledge surrounding atropine as a treatment for myopia, optometrists interviewed by Healthline said it’s been used for years.
Laura Vasilakos, an optometrist and fellow in the College of Optometrists in Vision Development, told Healthline that she and others routinely prescribe low-dose atropine eyedrops for children with myopia.
Another optometrist, Dana Spearin, agreed, telling Healthline that atropine eyedrops are a useful treatment.
“All of my patients who are on 0.05% atropine have not had an abnormal myopic or nearsighted increase over a 2-year period,” she said. “Many parents and patients do not know about myopia management or understand the importance of treatment. This study will help normalize the idea that your eyes don’t have to get worse just like your parents’ eyes did.”
Nearsightedness on the rise
“Since the 1970s, the incidence of myopia has nearly doubled, rising from 25 percent of the U.S. population to 42 percent, but predicted to increase to over 50 percent in the next 20 years,” Vasilakos explained. “Once a child becomes myopic, their vision deteriorates every 6 to 12 months, requiring a stronger and stronger prescription.”
Vasilakos said that, in most young adults, myopia will eventually stabilize — but the initial progression of myopia, where the eyes stretch and grow too much, can lead to bigger eye problems later in life, such as a myopic macular degeneration, retinal detachment, glaucoma, and cataracts.
“The higher the myopia, the greater the risk,” she said. “Since myopia progresses the fastest in children under age 10, the most important opportunity to slow eye growth is when children are young.”
For parents concerned about nearsightedness in their children, there’s a range of treatment options available, from the atropine drops detailed in recent research, to specialized contact lenses to orthokeratology, or ortho-k — contact lenses that act like a retainer to shape the eye and improve vision.
To take care of eye health on a day-to-day basis, Vasilakos recommends limiting something that’s become all too common: screen time.
“Follow the 20-20-20+2 rule: for every 20 minutes of screen time, take a 20-second break, look at something 20 feet away or more, and spend at least 2 hours outside each day, throughout the day,” said Vasilakos. “The World Health Organization recommends no more than 2 hours of recreational screen time per day for children ages 5 to 17 years, and a limit of 1 hour per day for preschool-aged children.”
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