Low-dose eye drops slow short-sightedness by half in growing children

23 November 15

written by:

Ade Deane-Pratt

(more articles)

The treatment could become an important part of preventing sigh loss worldwide

A child having eye drops administered. Credit: American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Results from a 5-year study have shown that a daily dose of atropine eye drops can slow down short-sightedness (myopia) as it develops. A total of 400 children aged 6 to 12 took part. Children who had the lowest dose had the best results and the fewest side-effects.

Short-sightedness is a type of ‘refractive error’, which means that light coming into the eye is focused in the wrong place for clear vision. In the case of short-sightedness light is focused in front of the light-sensitive layer of the eye (the retina) instead of directly on it. This means that close objects are in focus but objects in the distance are more blurred.

Keep your eyes open

In this study, scientists from the Singapore Eye Research Institute, led by Professor Donald Tan, tested the effect of atropine on short-sightedness. Atropine eye drops are sometimes used to treat ‘lazy eye’ (amblyopia). They can also be given during certain eye tests, because they make the pupil widen (dilate) which in turn makes it easier for the optician to see inside the eye.

Past research has shown that atropine can also stop the eyeball from becoming too long, which is one cause of short-sightedness. But at high doses atropine has unwanted side effects. It can cause an allergic reaction under the eyelid and pupil dilation can make people sensitive to light and their vision blurry.

So in this study each child was given daily atropine eye drops at one of three doses. They took the medication for 2 years and then stopped for a year. During the year off, some children became more short-sighted. The researchers put these children back on to the lowest dose of atropine – 0.01 percent – for another 2 years.

At the end of the 5 years, children on the lowest dose of atropine were the least short-sighted compared to the children on higher doses. And their eyesight had progressed by about half as much as children from a previous study who hadn’t been treated with atropine.

What about the 1 in 10?

“Short-sightedness is reaching epic proportions worldwide. This has prompted a rise in research to try to understand its cause,” said Dr Dolores M Conroy, Director of Research at Fight for Sight.

“It’s very encouraging that low-dose atropine was both effective and without significant side effects, at least for the duration of the study. However, just under 1 in 10 children in the study did not respond to the treatment, and we need to understand why. Extreme short-sightedness – high myopia – is potentially very serious and can lead to complications that cause permanent sight loss, such as retinal detachment and glaucoma.”

The results were presented at AAO 2015, the 119th annual meeting of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.