For some people, myopia (commonly known as nearsightedness) is a mildly annoying condition that is corrected with glasses. For those with more severe cases, however, myopia can lead to glaucoma, cataracts, or even macular degeneration.
While fewer than half of the American population suffers from this condition, a staggering 80–90 percent of people in Asian countries will be diagnosed with myopia and are at the greatest risk of developing the eye diseases that could leave them blind. Fortunately, a new study to be presented at the 119th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, has found that daily application of eyedrops can slow down the onset of nearsightedness.
The eyedrops used in this study contained atropine, which is conventionally used to treat amblyopia (lazy eye). Prior study had indicated that the drug could be beneficial in treating myopia, making it an attractive medication for research in this avenue.
"For a long time we've known that atropine drops can help keep myopia from getting worse to some degree," Donald Tan, lead author on the study, said in a statement. "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."
The study began in 2006 and used 400 children between the ages 6 and 12. The children were sorted into three groups based on the dosage of atropine. The drops were given daily over the course of two years and then stopped, so researchers could see if the myopia was progressing. Children whose eyesight worsened during this 12 month period were put back on medication at the lowest dose for two more years.
The results were incredibly encouraging.
The lowest dose of the medication had minimal side effects, and was deemed safe and effective for children as young as 6. It was quite effective at also slowing down the rate of progression by 50 percent of what children who did not receive the treatment.
There is still much to be known about atropine as a treatment to slow the progression of myopia. For starters, researchers still aren't sure what mechanism is actually at play in slowing down. This is just the beginning of an exciting way of mitigating the risks for the optical disease that could leave them permanently blinded.