Health & Environment

Eye drop may stop myopia progression

500 children are being recruited to test the efficiency of atropine

THERE is good news for children in Hong Kong, where over 50 per cent of those aged below 12 are short-sighted — the development of myopia could be slowed down by using atropine eye drops regularly.

Atropine is a drug normally used in the eye to enlarge the pupil and prevent it from changing the focus.

But research has shown that if its side effects of making the eye sensitive to bright light and causing blurred visions could be reduced, then it might be deployed as an effective tool to combat myopia.

The Chinese University's medical school is recruiting 500 children aged between four and 12 to take part in a study aimed at evaluating the efficacy of atropine eye drop as a means of slowing down myopia progression.

Participants, who are aged four to 12, are required to wear glasses as well as use atropine eye drops for the experiment.

"Atropine can enable more ultra violet (UV) light enter the eyes," said Dr Yam Cheuk-sing, an assistant professor of the department "this could help produce hormones to inhibit eyeball growth as well as delay the progress of myopia,"

Phase one of the research has found that atropine eye drops stop the development of myopia by stopping children's eyeballs from getting longer, which is a common cause of myopia.

However, atropine is only effective on children as the growth of eyeballs stop at the age of 18, which means the medicine does not work for adults, according to Dr Yam.

Side effects include difficulties of seeing near objects and discomfort from dilated pupil and glare.

Children are required to use it every night for a year, which may also be a long commitment to them.

The research also found that the average degree of 12-year-old children's short-sightedness has increased by 45 per cent over the past 20 years, from 145 degrees to 211, mainly because of the younger generation has become digital-native.

Ms Ho Wai-ching, a 30-year-old mother of a son who's obsessed with gadgets said:"I will let my child use atropine as it is easy to administer every day. It is only in the form of eye drops and it's painless."

But she agrees that prevention is better than cure.

Sharing her views, Mr Yip Chi-wah, a 40-year-old father of a myopic son, said non-medical solutions were easier to perform.

"I can tell my son to keep a certain distance when he is using a computer or watching TV and rest his eyes regularly," he said.

He recognises the cost of the eye drops might be huge and its possible side effects.  However, the price of atropine eye drops has not yet been decided, as the experiment will continue until next year in the earliest.

People with myopia have a higher chance of developing other complications affecting eyesight, such as retinal detachment, glaucoma and cataracts or even becoming blind.

Although some of them may resort to refractive surgery, Dr Yam said it could not remove the risks of such complications.

To effectively slow down myopia progression, he suggests parents encourage children to engage in outdoor activities instead of staring at screens.

Dr Yam stresses that "myopia is public health issue as all the people who develop visual complications due to myopia are at working age,"

"It will impose more socio-economic burden on the society, which has to use  a lot more resources to cure myopia complications," he warned.

 

Reported by Jackson Ho

Edited by Yupina Ng

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