Xerophthalmia can develop amongst males as well as females across ages. However, elderly individuals are at a higher risk of developing this health condition of the eye. In developing countries, even infants, children, and pregnant women are susceptible to this medical condition.
Xerophthalmia is a group of ocular symptoms caused due to vitamin A deficiency (VAD).
Symptoms of Xerophthalmia
There are seven distinct symptoms that are identified with VAD. Let’s take a look at each one of them here.
It is one of the most common symptoms of this deficiency. As evident from the name, this symptom typically occurs after dusk due to diminishing light.
It affects children, specifically between the ages of 2 to 6 years. This condition may also affect pregnant and breastfeeding women. It is difficult to understand whether a child has night blindness, unless he/she conveys about vision problems after sunset. Hence, it is important for parents and guardians to keep a close watch on any differences in the behaviour of their children after the sun sets or when in a dark room.
This occurs as a result of dryness of the conjunctiva. This symptom becomes more pronounced and severe when the vitamin A deficiency has been a prolonged condition due to lack of treatment. This symptom is challenging to diagnose, and hence, is often not considered one of the leading symptoms of xerophthalmia.
This symptom manifests itself through whitish spots that are somewhat elevated, located on the conjunctiva. The white substance does not disappear even after this symptom has been successfully treated. It can be safely wiped away every time it appears.
Bitot’s spots do not always get successfully treated. This spot is the most common amongst children between 3 to 6 years of age.
Dryness of the cornea occurs as a result of a malfunction of the glands in the conjunctiva. This symptom is accompanied by loss of mucus and tears. The dryness because of the lack of these ‘wetting agents’ makes the eyes more susceptible to infection.
If vitamin A deficiency is not treated urgently, the cornea which is the transparent protective covering on the eyes can develop ulcers.
A more severe form of corneal ulcers, keratomalacia is marked by corneal ulcers occupying a minimum of one-third of the cornea. The cornea becomes thicker and then melts away. This is the most serious form of xerophthalmia in which the cornea may get completely damaged in a few days.