Ever-contrarian Slate's medical roundup today discusses a new study demonstrating what appears to be a way to stop the progression of myopia in children:
New research: A recent study by Wei-Han Chua and colleagues at the Singapore National Eye Center elegantly built on older research and successfully used atropine eye drops to treat myopia in children. Atropine is a longer-lasting version of the pupil-dilating drops your doctor uses when you go for an eye exam. Available by prescription in the United States, the drops are mainly used to treat amblyopia (lazy eye) instead of the older treatment, patching, which children often hate.
Dr. Chua and his co-workers studied the progression of nearsightedness in 400 children between 6 and 12 years of age. Half the children were treated with atropine eye drops, and the other half were treated with placebo eye drops. Both kinds of drops were administered nightly to one eye, so the untreated eye could be compared with the treated one. The children were followed for two years. All used eyeglasses to correct their nearsightedness, and because atropine dilates the pupil, the lenses of the glasses self-darkened in bright light, to avoid discomfort for the children whose pupils were dilated.
Findings: The effects were extraordinary: After two years, on average, the children's nearsightedness had not progressed in the atropine-treated eyes but had dramatically worsened in the placebo-treated and untreated eyes. Similarly, atropine-treated eyes did not become deeper, while placebo-treated and untreated eyes did. No serious adverse effects were observed in the course of the research.
So. Reading too much makes nearsightedness worse. Duh.
In response, let's give children eyedrops that (a) make it difficult to read or do other close work, and (b) require them to wear not just glasses, but self-darkening bifocals. For years and years, especially during early adolescence.
This, in a world with contact lenses and LASIK*?
Not to mention ordinary eyeglasses?!
* Both of which I eschew, by the way; contacts never really worked well for me, what with allergies to the cleaners and a little corneal-vascularization scare, and now the baby-caused sleep deprivation and Cogan's dystrophy mean I'll never go back. Plus I'd rather let some other people be the guinea pig generation for corneal surgery— who knows what'll happen 40 years down the road?