Refractive errors, particularly myopia, are common and a leading cause of blindness. This study aimed to explore associations between medications and refractive error in an aging adult cohort and to determine whether childhood-onset refractive errors predict future medication use to provide novel insights into disease mechanisms.
The study compared the spherical equivalent values measured in 102,318 UK Biobank participants taking the 960 most commonly used medications. The strengths of associations were evaluated against the self-reported age of spectacle wear. The causality of refractive error changes was inferred using sensitivity and Mendelian randomization analyses.
Anti-glaucoma drugs were associated with 1 to 2 diopters greater myopic refraction, particularly in subjects who started wearing correction in the first two decades of life, potentially due to the association of higher intraocular pressure since early years with both myopia and, later in life, glaucoma. All classes of pain-control medications, including paracetamol, opiates, non-steroidal antiinflammatory drugs, and gabapentinoids, were associated with greater hyperopia (+0.68-1.15 diopters), after correction for deprivation, education, and polypharmacy and sensitivity analyses for common diagnoses. Oral hypoglycemics (metformin, gliburonide) were associated with myopia, as was allopurinol, and participants using bronchodilators (ipratropium and salbutamol) were more hyperopic.
This study finds for the first time, to our knowledge, that medication use is associated with refractive error in adults. The novel finding that analgesics are associated with hyperopic refraction, and the possibility that multisite chronic pain predisposes to hyperopia, deserves further research. Some drugs, such as antihyperglycemic or bronchodilators, may directly alter refractive error. Intraocular pressure appears causative for myopia.