Although there is no treatment for nearsightedness , a recent trial shows that medicated eye drops can halt the condition’s progression in kids. The drug atropine, which is also used to dilate the pupils during an eye exam, was tested in a study on the effects of eye drops.
Researchers discovered that when nearsighted children used the drops daily for three years, their vision deteriorated less quickly and was more likely to stabilise than it did for children who received placebo drops.
Experts emphasized that the drops will not reverse vision problems or free kids from glasses.
Lead researcher Karla Zadnik, dean of Ohio State University’s College of Optometry, explained that nearsightedness occurs when the eyeball “grows too long” during childhood, causing it to become more oval-shaped than round. This alters how light reaches the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye, resulting in blurred far vision.
While glasses or contact lenses can correct the blurred vision, nearsightedness typically continues to progress until at least the mid-teens.
Zadnik highlighted the importance of addressing nearsightedness because severe cases can lead to complications in adulthood, such as retinal detachment, glaucoma, and cataracts. However, it remains unknown whether atropine eye drops can prevent these conditions as it would require a long-term study.
Elongation of the eyeball.
Atropine is a drug commonly used to diagnose and treat various eye conditions. Experts believe that the low-dose atropine used for nearsightedness in kids slows down the elongation of the eyeball.
The recent study, published in JAMA Ophthalmology, is not the first to demonstrate that low-dose atropine can slow the progression of nearsightedness in children. Several smaller, shorter-term trials have also suggested its efficacy.
Currently, pharmacies typically compound low-dose atropine formulations that may contain preservatives causing side effects such as dry eye or corneal irritation.
In this trial, the researchers recruited 576 nearsighted kids, with 411 assigned to different doses of atropine eye drops and 165 to placebo drops. After three years, 28.5% of children on the lower atropine dose (0.01% atropine) showed minimal change in their vision, while the response rate in the placebo group was 17%. The response rate for the higher atropine dose (0.02%) was not statistically different from the placebo group.
Zadnik pointed out that even children who did not fully respond still experienced benefits, as their nearsightedness progression was slower on average among those using 0.01% atropine compared to the placebo group.
However, important questions remain unanswered, such as when kids can stop using atropine drops and what happens afterward. Eye doctors generally monitor children’s vision and may recommend restarting atropine if nearsightedness progression occurs after stopping its use.
Dr. Rudrani Banik, an ophthalmologist with the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mount Sinai, supports low-dose atropine drops as an option but acknowledges the potential for side effects and the cost of current compounded formulations. The cost of the approved Vyluma product, if it becomes available, is unclear.
Banik also highlighted that spending more time outdoors is another potential approach to slow the progression of nearsightedness in kids, although researchers have not fully understood the exact reasons behind this effect.