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Xerophthalmia is an eye disorder caused by vitamin A deficiency. 

Vitamin A deficiency can dry out your tear ducts and eyes. If left untreated, symptoms of xerophthalmia can lead to night blindness and severe injury to your cornea, such as white spots and corneal ulcers. 

In even more severe cases, xerophthalmia can cause blindness.

Although vitamin A deficiency is the primary cause of xerophthalmia, this condition can also arise from other factors. This eye disorder does not occur immediately, but develops slowly over several months.

Causes of Xerophthalmia

Vitamin A deficiency is the main factor that causes a person to develop xerophthalmia. Since your body does not produce vitamin A, you have to get your vitamin A intake from foods. 

Vitamin A offers numerous benefits that are good for overall eye health. This vitamin contains a protein element that can absorb light in the receptors around the retina.

Xerophthalmia usually occurs in pregnant women and children. This is because they require more vitamin A intake compared to other groups. 

In some cases, a person may still develop xerophthalmia even though they routinely consume foods containing vitamin A. This might be due to other medical conditions which can cause difficulty in absorbing vitamin A, such as:

  • Alcohol consumption or addiction.
  • Undergoing thyroid cancer treatment with thyroid nuclear therapy.
  • Having symptoms of chronic diarrhoea, cirrhosis of the liver, celiac disease, and other diseases

When to See a Doctor for Xerophthalmia?

The diagnosis of xerophthalmia can be provided by an ophthalmologist. First, the eye specialist doctor will ask about your medical history to determine if the xerophthalmia symptoms are triggered by other medical conditions.

Subsequently, the doctor will perform a physical examination of your eye. This can be done by undergoing a Schirmer’s test – a test to measure whether the eye can produce enough tears to keep it moist. 

The Schirmer’s test is performed using a strip of filter paper tucked between the eyelids for about five minutes. During this test, you will be asked to close your eyes. Your doctor will assess how far the tears have travelled on the paper. The amount of moisture on the paper will indicate how much tears you produce. 

A serum vitamin A test can also be performed. If the serum retinol level is greater than 0.70 micromol per litre, then you have sufficient vitamin A levels in your body.

Symptoms of Xerophthalmia

Xerophthalmia is a disorder that appears and develops periodically. When a person has xerophthalmia, they may not feel it. Therefore, the symptoms of xerophthalmia appear slowly over time.

In general, xerophthalmia has similar symptoms to dry eyes caused by other medical conditions, such as:

  • Itchy eyes.
  • Red eye.
  • Night blindness.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Stinging and burning sensation in the eyes.
  • Feeling there’s a ‘lump’ in the eye
  • Eyes become more sensitive to light

When you deal with xerophthalmia, the thin lining of your eyelids called ‘conjunctiva’, dries, thickens, and wrinkles. This symptom is one of the most visible symptoms of xerophthalmia.

Another symptom of xerophthalmia is night blindness. Night blindness is characterized by the inability to see under dim lighting and is often associated with a vitamin A deficiency.

If not treated immediately with sufficient vitamin A intake, xerophthalmia will continue to develop. When the symptoms of xerophthalmia develop, you may experience lesions or white spots on your cornea. Apart from that, you also run the risk of experiencing corneal ulcers. At this stage, the entire or partial cornea will melt and cause blindness.

Treatment for Xerophthalmia

Xerophthalmia is treatable. Your doctor will prescribe you with medications that will supply vitamin A intake for your body.

Vitamin A intake can also be provided through injections. The dosage for vitamin A injections varies, depending on your health condition and age.

In cases where the cornea is acutely damaged, the sufferer may be advised to take antibiotics to prevent further infection. The patient’s eyes will also be closed until the lesions or blisters are completely recovered.

Apart from medicines and injections, you can increase your level of vitamin A intake by increasing the consumption of foods containing vitamin A, such as fat, whole grains, milk, and sugar.

Treatment Cost for Xerophthalmia

Xerophthalmia can be treated by an ophthalmologist. The cost of treatment varies, depending on the patient’s condition, how acute the symptoms are, and how the treatment is carried out. 

For more information regarding the estimated costs of Xerophthalmia treatment, contact Smarter Health.

Prevention of Xerophthalmia

In general, xerophthalmia occurs due to a lack of vitamin A. Not only does it affect eye dryness, vitamin A deficiency also affects your overall eye health.

To avoid certain eye disorders including xerophthalmia – you are advised to consume more vitamin A that can be found in: 

  • Animal-based food such as chicken, salmon, tuna, yogurt, milk and eggs.
  • Plant-based food such as citrus fruits, spinach, lettuce, and carrots

You can also find vitamin A in poultry, fish liver and dairy products.

Vitamin A deficiency is not always caused by a lack of consumption of foods rich in vitamin A. For some people, regular consumption of vitamin A can still cause eye abnormalities. This is because of the body’s inability to absorb vitamin A.

The reduced ability to absorb vitamin A can be overcome by: 

  • Avoiding and quitting alcohol consumption.
  • Changing smoking habits

The level of vitamin A intake for each person varies. Adult men require 3,000 units of vitamin A, while adult women require as much as 2,310 units. For children and pregnant women, they require about 2,562 units per day.

For children under 13 years, they require vitamin A as much as 2,000 units per day. Meanwhile, children under 8 years require 1,320 units per day and 1,000 units per day for children aged 1-3 years.

Home Remedies for Patients Diagnosed with Xerophthalmia

You can start to pay attention to your eye health by maintaining the levels of vitamin A required by your body.

For patients with acute xerophthalmia, you are advised to adhere to your doctor’s instructions. You should consume medications and antibiotics as prescribed by the doctor. In addition, your doctor may recommend an eye patch if necessary. This is done to maintain your eye’s cleanliness.

To speed up recovery, you are advised to consume more vitamin A and break bad habits that can worsen eye disorders, such as alcohol consumption and smoking.

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