Myopia control: Is there a cure for nearsightedness?
By Gary Heiting, OD
If your child has myopia (nearsightedness), you're probably wondering if there is a cure — or at least something that can be done to slow its progression so your child doesn't need stronger glasses year after year.
eye care practitionersand researchers have been wondering the same thing. And there's good news: A number of recent studies suggest it may indeed be possible to at least control myopia by slowing its progression during childhood and among teenagers.Watch this video to learn more about myopia and what can be done to slow the progression of nearsightedness in children.
What Is Myopia Control?
Although an outright cure for nearsightedness has not been discovered, your eye doctor can now offer a number of treatments that may be able to slow the progression of myopia.
These treatments can induce changes in the structure and focusing of the eye to reduce stress and fatigue associated with the development and progression of nearsightedness.
Why should you be interested in myopia control? Because slowing the progression of myopia may keep your child from developing high levels of nearsightedness that require thick, corrective eyeglasses and have been associated with serious eye problems later in life, such as early cataracts or even a detached retina.
Currently, four types of treatment are showing promise for controlling myopia:
- Atropine eye drops
- Multifocal contact lenses
- Orthokeratology ("ortho-k")
- Multifocal eyeglasses
[See also: What is Myopia Control?]
Here's a summary of each of these treatments and of recent myopia control research:
Atropine Eye Drops
Atropine eye drops have been used for myopia control for many years, with effective short-term results. But use of these eye drops also has some drawbacks.
Topical atropine is a medicine used to dilate the pupil and temporarily paralyze
accommodationand completely relax the eyes' focusing mechanism.
Atropine typically is not used for routine dilated eye exams because its actions are long-lasting and can take a week or longer to wear off. (The dilating drops your eye doctor uses during your eye exam typically wear off within a couple hours.)
A common use for atropine these days is to reduce eye pain associated with certain types of uveitis.
Because research has suggested nearsightedness in children may be linked to focusing fatigue, investigators have looked into using atropine to disable the eye's focusing mechanism to control myopia.
And results of studies of atropine eye drops to control myopia progression have been impressive — at least for the first year of treatment. Four short-term studies published between 1989 and 2010 found atropine produced an average reduction of myopia progression of 81 percent among nearsighted children.
However, additional research has shown that the myopia control effect from atropine does not continue after the first year of treatment, and that short-term use of atropine may not control nearsightedness significantly in the long run.
Interestingly, one study found that when atropine drops were discontinued after two years of use for myopia control, children who were using drops with the lowest concentration of atropine (0.01 percent) had more sustained control of their nearsightedness than children who were treated with stronger atropine drops (0.1 percent or 0.5 percent). They also had less "rebound" myopia progression one year after treatment.
Also, many eye doctors are reluctant to prescribe atropine for children because long-term effects of sustained use of the medication are unknown.
Other drawbacks of atropine treatment include discomfort and light sensitivity from prolonged pupil dilation, blurred near vision, and the added expense of the child needing bifocals or progressive eyeglass lenses during treatment to be able to read clearly, since his or her near focusing ability is affected.
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