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    Chinese Parents Falling Prey to Dubious Myopia ‘Miracle Cures’

    With half of Chinese children now near-sighted, vendors are flooding the market with questionable eye treatments — from “AI glasses” to “miracle drugs.”

    When Li Yun noticed her child was becoming near-sighted two years ago, the mother from northern China’s Hebei province decided to do everything she could to protect her child’s vision.

    Feeling that the glasses prescribed by public hospitals weren’t enough, she turned to local vision care centers that promised to improve her 6-year-old’s eyesight. The specialists prescribed a range of treatments that together cost Li over 30,000 yuan ($4,100).

    None of them worked. The next time Li’s child went for an eye test, her myopia had gotten even worse, Li told domestic media.

    Li felt she had been duped — and she’s far from the only parent to spend a small fortune on questionable eye care products. As ever more Chinese children develop eye issues, dubious myopia “miracle cures” are becoming a nationwide problem.

    According to data from China’s National Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the myopia rate among Chinese children was 51.9% in 2022 and as high as 81.2% among high school students.

    Businesses are increasingly trying to take advantage of this trend. A recent investigation by domestic outlet Legal Daily uncovered a range of “miracle drugs” and “miracle devices” on sale in China claiming to treat childhood myopia. These include everything from eye drops and nutritional supplements to “AI vision training devices,” with some products costing thousands of yuan.

    Many of these treatments are not only ineffective; if they are used as substitutes for prescription glasses they can even exacerbate a child’s myopia, experts told Legal Daily. In reality, myopia is closely linked to physical changes in the eyeball axis and is very difficult to reverse. Any product claiming to cure myopia is thus guilty of false advertising, the experts explained.

    Many vision care centers appear to be doing just that. During a visit to a clinic in Beijing, a Legal Daily reporter was told they would no longer need to wear glasses within three months if they invested in a range of treatments, which included a Chinese herbal eye ointment, dietary supplements, and an electromagnetic pulse machine.

    Another online vendor was found to be promoting “AI vision training glasses” that create personalized training regimes for children based on their age and degree of myopia. The vendor told Legal Daily that due to advertising regulations they cannot claim to cure near-sightedness, but they promised the product could “enhance uncorrected visual acuity.”

    On the lifestyle platform Xiaohongshu, many other vendors are also advertising AI vision training glasses — and they’re often willing to make bold claims about their efficacy. One seller boasted that using the product for 20 minutes a day will enable customers to read an extra one to three lines on a standard eye chart.

    “It’s suitable for those with myopia, astigmatism, presbyopia, and hyperopia, offering remarkable results in vision adjustment. The impact is outstanding,” she posted.

    An informal market also appears to have developed for medications such as Atropine, which is used to slow the progression of myopia in children. Several online vendors say they can source the drug, which is only available by prescription, but experts caution that side effects can include blurred vision and allergic reactions.

    Chinese authorities are trying to clamp down on dubious eye care solutions. In April, the State Administration for Market Regulation announced a campaign targeting myopia prevention products making deceptive claims. Particular attention will be paid to advertisements using terms like “recovery” and “myopia cure.”

    Wu Xinhui, a Shanghai-based lawyer, told domestic media that consumers can best protect themselves by making sure that eye care providers provide full documentation for all products and services.

    Wu also stressed that regulators need to strengthen supervision over the eye care market and crack down on false advertising. Health authorities, meanwhile, are responsible for rooting out unlicensed medical practices and poor-quality vision correction devices.

    (Header image: VCG)