By Dr. Florence Fernet-Leclair

In recent years, rates of nearsightedness (myopia) have increased dramatically among children, but fortunately, so have treatment options.

While there is no way to reverse myopia, a recent study showed that a low-dose of nightly atropine drops can significantly slow its progression. While children will still need to wear glasses or contact lenses to help them see further away, these drops can help slow down the worsening of their vision.

These study findings are powerful, as myopia is increasing at epidemic proportions among children. While 30 years ago, only about 20% of American children were diagnosed with myopia, today, that number is closer to 40% — and in Asia, it’s estimated that up to 90% of children are nearsighted.

It’s important to understand that nearsightedness is more serious than just requiring glasses or contact lenses. Having myopia also increases a patient’s chance of developing more serious eye conditions later in life, including macular degeneration and glaucoma.

Myopia is frequently diagnosed in children between the ages of 5 and 7, and can worsen rapidly until they reach their early teens, when eye growth and development begin to slow down. This is why it’s important to begin treatments as early as possible.

“What we’re seeing is that for most kids — about 90 percent — their rate of myopia progression decreases or slows by about half,” according to pediatric ophthalmologist David Epley, MD, a proponent of low-dose atropine drops. “The sooner they start taking it, the less nearsighted they’ll be overall.”

As far as down sides of the treatment go, while less than 1% of children experience mild side effects (minor itching and redness), continuous and consistent use of the drops during high-growth years is essential to keep myopia progression at bay.

While it’s not entirely clear why very low doses (0.01 percent concentration) of atropine are effective in slowing myopia, some ophthalmologists hypothesize it’s because it binds to growth receptors in the eye, which prevents the distortion that causes nearsightedness.

Low-dose atropine drops are one of several options for myopia control in children. To learn more about the best treatment options for your child, book an appointment with one of our doctors today.