HomeGeneral MedicineXerophthalmia - Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment

Xerophthalmia – Causes, Symptoms, Risk Factors and Treatment

What is Xerophthalmia?

Xerophthalmia is a disease in which vitamin A deficiency causes dry eyes. If left untreated, xerophthalmia can worsen to cause  night blindness or spots on the eyes. It can also damage the cornea of your eye and lead to blindness. Xerophthalmia can be treated with vitamin A supplements.

What are the causes of xerophthalmia?

Vitamin A, or retinol, is an important nutrient and its main function is to aid people in maintaining the health and vision of their eyes. It also protects the vital organs, including the lungs and heart, and strengthens the immune system.

The body does not generate vitamin A on its own . People should eat foods like carrots and meat or consume supplements that are rich in vitamin A because getting a sufficient amount of vitamin A is essential for health.

Lack of vitamin A in the diet can lead to dry eyes which can progress to even blindness , a condition also known as Xerophthalmia. 

What are the symptoms?

Xerophthalmia is a progressive disease that starts with dry eyes and can keep becoming worse. Common symptoms of xerophthalmia include:

  • Drying and wrinkling of the outer layer of the eye or conjunctiva 
  • Night blindness, an eye disease in which people cannot see in dim light
  • Ulcers or scars on the cornea
  • Bitot’s spots, or white spots on conjunctiva
  • Softening of the cornea

Xerophthalmia is a curable disease in early stages that can be treated effortlessly. But in severe cases, it can lead to permanent blindness.

What are the risk factors for xerophthalmia?

Xerophthalmia can be caused by underlying conditions that lead to vitamin A deficiency. Xerophthalmia has the following risk factors:

  • Young age – vitamin A deficiency is common in infants and children. It can interfere with the child’s growth, have adverse effects on the vital organs and further complicate other conditions or infections. If the child does not get sufficient amounts of vitamin A when they are growing up, it can lead to xerophthalmia or childhood blindness.
  • Diseases such as measles and respiratory infections can also cause vitamin A deficiency in children.
  • Infants are far more likely to be affected by severe xerophthalmia than adults. Children between the ages of 3 and 6 have more chances of suffering from night blindness due to xerophthalmia.

Other factors. Here are some of the other risk factors for xerophthalmia in children and adults, among them are:

  • Poverty – people who suffer from poverty or cannot afford proper meals are more likely at risk for diseases such as xerophthalmia.
  • Lack of nutrition education – people who are not properly educated about nutrition are generally unaware of the benefits of vitamin A. This can result in reduced intake of vitamin A in their diet.
  • Malnutrition – vitamin A deficiency is caused by lack of proper nutrition. Severe malnutrition can lead to dry eyes and can result in night blindness.
  • Other diseases – diseases such as pancreatitis or inflammatory bowel disease can lead to vitamin A deficiency.
  • Liver problems – chronic liver disease or liver cirrhosis may stop vitamin A from being absorbed into the body. The resultant vitamin A deficiency can lead to xerophthalmia.
  • Chronic diarrhea – people with frequent diarrhea are at increased risk for xerophthalmia because of the inability of the body to retain vitamin A.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption: Consuming large quantities of alcohol lowers the level of vitamin A in the body.

How is xerophthalmia diagnosed?

If people suffer from visible symptoms such as dry eyes, they must speak to their doctor. The doctor can conduct a physical exam and examine the symptoms and history. They may also evaluate their diet.

The doctor can also ask for a blood test to check the levels of vitamin A in the body. If people are suffering from severe xerophthalmia or night blindness, the doctor can begin the treatment immediately.

How is xerophthalmia treated?

The primary treatment for xerophthalmia is vitamin A therapy or supplementation. Vitamin A can either be given orally or via an injection. The doctor may also prescribe other medications, such as antibiotics, to prevent eye infections.

Xerophthalmia is treated in adults and children through vitamin A therapy. The dosage is dependent on the age and the severity of xerophthalmia.

The doctor may also ask the patients to eat yellow-coloured fruits and vegetables containing ample beta-carotene. They can also advise the patient to include green leafy vegetables, meat and dairy in their diet. If other factors cause xerophthalmia, the doctor may work with the patient to treat the underlying cause.

How can xerophthalmia be prevented?

Xerophthalmia can be prevented through the consumption of vitamin A supplements. Increasing the levels of vitamin A in the diet may also aid in the prevention of this disease. Certain foods that contain ample amounts of vitamin A that can be easily included in the diet are:

Incorporating foods high in vitamin A into the diet can help prevent xerophthalmia and help maintain overall health.

Conclusion

Xerophthalmia can be cured with vitamin A supplements. In advanced cases, scarring can be permanent and impair vision. Permanent blindness can occur in critical cases.

Persons who are at risk of  vitamin A deficiency, must speak with their doctor about the consumption of vitamin A supplements. They must also alter their diet as much as possible to include animal products and vegetables and fruits that contain beta carotene.

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