Can atropine eye drops save your vision? Research looks promising

Washington Post with additional reporting by Ben Pang

In developed Asian countries, almost 90 per cent of children are nearsighted, but a new kind of treatment might change all that

Washington Post with additional reporting by Ben Pang |

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High academic demand put many students' eyes at risk.

It seems that a simple eye drop might save students from myopia, or nearsightedness. Glasses and contact lenses offer a correction, but they don't actually stop the eyes from becoming worse. But medicated eye drops may do just that.

In a five-year clinical trial conducted in Singapore, drops of a drug called atropine seemed to slow the progression of nearsightedness in children. Atropine drops are approved for use in the United States at a higher concentration than that used in the study.

But the drops (which are currently used to treat lazy eye in children) can cause light sensitivity and blurry vision at higher doses, so researchers set out to determine whether a smaller dose could still be effective without producing side-effects.

Researchers were surprised to find that a lower dose of the drug was actually more effective than higher dosages, in addition to causing fewer side-effects.

The research was presented on November 16 at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology in Las Vegas, in the US, and will appear in the February 2016 edition of the journal Ophthalmology.

Experts at different universities say myopia is mostly caused by genetics and environment. Polytechnic University's Optometry Professor Carly Lam Siu-yiu told Young Post yesterday that, genetically, Chinese have a high risk of developing myopia.

While one survey found that fishermen are less likely to have myopia, high academic demand, which requires students to read a lot, can also weaken students' eyes, she said.

Chinese University's Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences assistant professor, Yam Cheuk-sing, agrees. In one of his surveys of 7,000 Hong Kong children in 2004, around 30 per cent of six-year-olds were myopic. But, among 12-year-olds, that figure had jumped to 53 per cent. "When they grow up, they have higher myopia and risk other diseases like glaucoma and retinal detachment," said Yam.

In developed Asian countries, almost 90 per cent of children are nearsighted.

Yam said that a small dosage of atropine can slow the progress of myopia, without risking the health of the eyes.

There are also other ways to keep your eyes healthy. Yam suggested young people follow the 20-20-20 rule. "Take a break for 20 seconds after 20 minutes of reading or computer use, and the objects that you look at should be 20 feet [six metres] away from you."