Nearsightedness is becoming more common in children all around the world. In China as many as 80 percent of the children are nearsighted, according to a National Public Radio article. A report presented at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting in Las Vegas last month reported drops of atropine helped reduce nearsightedness in children.
Atropine, a toxin found in deadly nightshade and jimsonweed, was used as far back as the 19th and early 20th centuries. Because larger pupils were considered attractive, French women would add atropine to their eyes to dilate their pupils. Later it was used to treat amblyopia, or lazy eye, because it blurs vision therefore forcing a weaker eye to work harder, according to NPR.
Doctors began to research the effects of atropine on nearsightedness in the 1990s. Although it is not entirely clear how atropine works, a hypothesis suggests atropine helps hinder the growth of elongated eyeballs that cause nearsightedness. In Asian countries, myopic children are prescribed a one-percent solution of atropine eyedrops, according to NPR.
Because atropine dilates the pupils and blurs vision, it comes with its own set of side effects. People who use atropine drops might have a hard time seeing up close or being able to look at bright lights.
Dr. Donald Tan, a senior adviser at the Singapore National Eye Center, and his colleagues have researched atropine to better treat eye problems for more than three decades. “We realized, yeah, atropine does work, but we’ve got to reduce the dose so we can reduce some of these side effects,” he said. “Otherwise it will never be practical.”
Tan and a group of researchers gathered 400 nearsighted children in Singapore to test different doses of atropine in a five-year period. The atropine eyedrops were administered once a day for two years. Some people could experience a growth spurt in their eyes after using atropine. To account for this, Tan and the researchers monitored the patients for a year without the eyedrops. If a patient’s nearsightedness returned, he or she would have to use the low-dose atropine eyedrops for another year or two, according to NPR.
The patients who received the lowest dosage, 0.01 percent atropine eyedrops, showed the least worsening of nearsightedness. “We slowed the progression of myopia by 50 percent,” Tan said. Those patients also reported almost no uncomfortable side effects, according to NPR.
Approximately 40 percent of Americans are nearsighted, a low dose of atropine could reduce extreme nearsightedness that ultimately leads to retinal detachment of retinal degeneration. The Food and Drug Administration has only approved a one-percent solution of atropine.