Are Atropine Eye Drops The Answer For Worsening Myopia?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, May 4, 2023

We explore the use of atropine eye drops for managing myopia in children, discuss their benefits, disadvantages, and how they work.

Myopia, or nearsightedness, is a common eye condition that causes distant objects to appear blurry. While glasses and contact lenses are effective at correcting myopia, they don’t stop it from worsening.

Have you noticed your child’s eyeglasses prescription worsens every few months? 

This is known as ‘myopia progression’.

Recent research suggests that atropine eye drops may be a promising solution for halting or slowing myopia progression in children.

Below we’ll take a closer look at atropine eye drops, and how useful they can be for managing myopia. Let’s start at the beginning.

What is Atropine?

Atropine is an anticholinergic, this is a group of medications that affect how your body’s nerves communicate with each other. Eye doctors have used atropine eye drops for many years to dilate the pupil of the eye during eye exams and to treat certain eye conditions, such as uveitis and iritis.

Recent studies have revealed that atropine eye drops can be effective in reducing the pace of myopia progression in children. 

In one of those studies, Dr. Isha Sharma and colleagues from the University College of Medical Science and Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in Delhi, India, conducted a randomized trial involving 100 children. The results of the study showed that after a year of treatment with low-dose atropine eye drops, myopia progression was halted in 96% of the cases.

How Atropine Eye Drops Work for Myopia Control

Atropine eye drops work by blocking the muscarinic receptors in the eye. These receptors control how the eye changes focus, by altering the lens shape inside the eye, and the size of the pupil, impacting the amount of light entering the eye.

Research shows that the more the eye strains while focusing, such as for extended hours of reading or looking at computer screens, the more myopia worsens. Then by blocking these receptors, atropine drops lower the focusing power of the eye, reducing the strain on the lens, which then may slow down myopia progression.

How Should Atropine Eye Drops Be Used?

Atropine eye drops should only be used as directed by your eye doctor. Typically, the recommended dose of atropine for myopia control is 0.01%, which has proven effective in reducing the progression of myopia in children with minimal side effects.

The drops are usually applied to both eyes once a day, preferably at bedtime. Your eye doctor may recommend the removal of any contact lenses before using the drops for children who wear them, and wait at least 10 minutes before placing them back on.

If you notice any side effects while using atropine eye drops, please contact your optometrist right away.

Benefits of Atropine Eye Drops for Myopia

  • Non-invasive

Atropine eye drops are non-invasive and relatively easy to administer. They do not require any surgical procedures and may remove the need for the use of specific contact lenses to be worn while sleeping.

  • Low cost

The drops are relatively inexpensive compared to other treatment options for myopia, such as ortho-k lenses or laser refractive surgery. They are also widely available and can be prescribed by most eye doctors, who have experience in myopia management

Disadvantages of Atropine Eye Drops for Myopia

  • Side effects

While .01% is the dosage recommended in most cases, some doctors may prescribe higher doses of atropine eye drops up to .05%. Atropine can cause side effects like eye stinging, blurred vision, sensitivity to light, dry mouth, and increased heart rate.

  • Not suitable for everyone

Another drawback of atropine eye drops is that they may not be suitable for everyone. Children with medical conditions such as glaucoma may be advised not to use atropine. Some people may also have allergic reactions to some of the ingredients the eye drops contain.

  • Potential long-term effect on vision

Some studies have suggested that prolonged use of atropine may increase the risk of certain eye conditions, such as glaucoma or cataracts, but more research is needed to fully understand the long-term effects of atropine eye drops on myopia and general eye health.

Atropine Eye Drops For Myopia in Adults

Atropine eye drops have been found to be effective in controlling myopia in children from age 4 to 16, but there is no evidence to support their use in older teenagers and adults.

For adults, up to the early 20s, orthokeratology (ortho-k) and multifocal glasses or contact lenses are the most effective methods of controlling myopia progression. But generally, the ideal treatment plan an eye doctor would recommend depends on your age, lifestyle, and the severity of your myopia.

It’s important to start myopia management as early as possible.

Contact your local optometrist once you notice signs of myopia in your child.

If your child has myopia, regular eye exams are also crucial because early detection can help prevent myopia progression and many other eye problems