Nearly half of the US population, approximately 41.6%, is affected by myopia or nearsightedness, which is roughly twice the number of cases reported five decades ago. In East and Southeast Asia, almost 90% of children and young adults are affected by myopia or nearsightedness. Myopia generally begins during childhood; the earlier it starts, the more likely it is to worsen over time, leading to more severe effects in adulthood. However, this rising trend of nearsightedness might be about to change. Recent studies have found that medicated eye drops are able to delay the condition among children.
Myopia has a lot to do with genetics. According to Jason Yam of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, it is 10 times more likely for children with both parents being myopic to inherit it than children with nonmyopic parents. This means that children who are more likely to develop myopia can be identified and given prevention earlier on in life. However, environmental factors likely play a large part as well. Spending less time outdoors and focusing more on education is causing the recent boom, not genetics. “It’s happening too quickly to be a purely genetic or inherited issue,” says optometrist Kathryn Saunders.
Eyedrops of 0.05 percent atropine can relax the eye muscle responsible for focusing vision. This type of medication has already been used to slow down the development of myopia, and it seems possible that it can delay myopia in individuals as well.
Atropine eye drops are commonly used to dilate the eyes for eye exams. The concentration of atropine in an ophthalmic solution used for eye exams is usually higher than the concentration in eye drops that are used to manage myopia development. Low-concentration atropine can dilate the pupils and weaken muscle contractions inside the eye. This can relax the focusing mechanisms in the eye and possibly reduce myopia progression. Atropine binds to specific growth receptors in the eyes, in turn encouraging growth.
The team consisting of Yam and his colleagues did the research through 474 nonmyopic children in Hong Kong. Everyone in the study used either 0.05% atropine, 0.01% atropine, or placebo eyedrops every night. After two years, myopia was observed in 28.4%, 45.9%, and 53.0% of the participants, respectively. Their families didn’t know which treatment group the children were in. From this experiment, the 0.05% atropine eyedrop seemed to be able to delay myopia. The 0.01% atropine eyedrop, however, did not prove to be much different from simply using the placebo eyedrops. Although all of these claims would need further studies, they were a huge step in studying the topic of myopia.
Studies suggest that 50% of the population will be nearsighted in less than thirty years. The global prevalence of myopia is increasing, and it is influenced by both genetic and environmental factors. New scientific findings may reverse this trend, solving problems before they worsen later in life.
- Gray, Dan. “Nearsightedness in Children: How Eyedrops Can Help Minimize Myopia.” Healthline, 19 Feb. 2023, www.healthline.com/health-news/nearsightedness-in-children-how-eyedrops-can-help-minimize-myopia.
- Johnson, Sara. “Are Atropine Eye Drops Effective for Myopia Control? | CO.” Eyecarecs, 16 Mar. 2022, eyecarecs.com/are-atropine-eye-drops-effective-for-myopia-control/.
- “Myopia: A Close Look at Efforts to Turn Back a Growing Problem | National Eye Institute.” Www.nei.nih.gov, 3 Oct. 2017, www.nei.nih.gov/about/news-and-events/news/myopia-close-look-efforts-turn-back-growing-problem#:~:text=Instead%20of%20focusing%20images%20on.
- Prillaman, McKenzie. “Medicated Eye Drops May Delay Nearsightedness in Children.” ScienceNews, 27 Feb. 2023, www.sciencenews.org/article/eye-drops-delay-nearsightedness-child.
- Tang, Shu Min, et al. “Independent Influence of Parental Myopia on Childhood Myopia in a Dose-Related Manner in 2,055 Trios: The Hong Kong Children Eye Study.” American Journal of Ophthalmology, vol. 218, Oct. 2020, pp. 199–207, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajo.2020.05.026. Accessed 20 June 2021.
- Yam, Jason C., et al. “Effect of Low-Concentration Atropine Eyedrops vs Placebo on Myopia Incidence in Children: The LAMP2 Randomized Clinical Trial.” JAMA, vol. 329, no. 6, Feb. 2023, pp. 472–81, https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2022.24162.
This column was submitted by high school student Iris Wang. Student STEM Columns are submitted by high school or advanced middle school students who wish to share their passion for STEM. Students interested in submitting a column should email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.Share this post!