What is Xerophthalmia?
Xerophthalmia is a medical condition in which the eye film is reduced and the eye is incapable of producing tears. This appears when there is something wrong with the lacrimal glands and their main function, meaning to produce tears, is affected. Xerophthalmia is also known as the dry eye syndrome or conjunctivitis arida and it can affect the quality of life to an extensive level.
The tears are very important to the health of our eyes, because they actually keep it lubricated. Without the eye film, we would never be protected against particles and debris coming from the outside. This is why having a healthy tear film also guarantees healthy eyes, meaning a good vision as well. Patients who are diagnosed with xerophthalmia suffer from vision problems and other upsetting symptoms, requiring specialized medical attention and treatment.
These are the main symptoms that can appear in case of xerophthalmia:
- Blurred vision
- Burning and itching sensation in the eye
- Redness of the eye
- The sensation of having sand in the eye
- Light sensitivity
- Mild irritation and discomfort in the initial stage
- Corneal xerosis
- Desire to blink continuously (blinking usually renews the tear film)
- Night blindness (the patient cannot distinguish any object in the dark)
- Bitot’s spots (these are triangular spots of pearly or yellow color).
Depending on the symptoms exhibited by the patient, xerophthalmia has the following stages:
According to the primary symptoms:
- X1A – conjunctival dryness and loss of ability to renew tear film
- X1B – appearance of Bitot’s spots
- X2 – corneal xerosis (accompanied by hazy cornea)
- X3A – corneal ulceration (loss of substance)
- X3B – keratomalacia (the cornea softens to the point where the eye ball is deformed or destroyed)
According to the secondary symptoms:
- XN – night blindness (accompanied by the functional impairment of the retina)
- XF – lesions of the vessels
- XS – corneal scarring
- XB – Bitot’s spots and conjunctival xerosis.
These are the most common causes that lead to the appearance of xerophthalmia:
- Vitamin A deficiency (primary cause)
- Poor closure of the eyelids
- Previous injuries or traumas (accompanied by scarring)
- Autoimmune disorders (rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, lupus)
- Radiotherapy (often transient but cases of permanent damage have been reported)
- Medication (medication for nasal congestion, sedatives, medication against allergies, such as anti-histamines)
- Chemical burns
First of all, you should be aware that in the case of xerophthalmia, the treatment will be required for both the symptoms and the deficiency.
These are the most common courses of treatment for the symptoms of xerophthalmia:
- Eye drops containing artificial tears (help renew the tear film and prevent eye dryness)
- Air humidifiers (keeping the air in the room humid will help prevent eye dryness as well)
- Wrap around glasses for the outside (this is extremely important, as the lack of tear film will contribute to debris to enter the eye, causing serious infections; plus, the wind can cause even more dryness)
- In case of corneal ulcerations, the most recommended course of treatment is the surgical intervention
- Retinol injections are indicated, especially in patients that have severe diarrhea or vomit persistently
If the xerophthalmia is caused by the lack of vitamin A, then there are two ways to go:
- Vitamin A fortification (vitamin A supplements)
- Diet change to include foods that are rich in vitamin A in the diet (carrots, dark green leafy vegetables, deep yellow fruits, sweet potatoes, squash, lettuce, dried apricots, sweet red peppers, tuna fish, mango and other tropical fruits, cod liver oil, turkey liver, paprika spices, whole milk, dried basil, peas, cantaloupe, tomatoes, marjoram, spinach).
As you have seen for yourself, the most common cause of xerophthalmia is vitamin A deficiency. This should be a signal that our diets have changed to the point where many of the necessary vitamins and minerals are lacking. When the body suffers from a certain deficiency, associated symptoms will appear. If you do not have enough vitamin A in the body, then xerophthalmia will be the medical condition you will suffer from.
Prevention programs nowadays target the general population, in order to eliminate the risk of vitamin deficiency related diseases from appearing. This programs are especially targeted at children, elder people and pregnant women, as these three represent the highest risk groups. Vitamin A fortification programs have been successful in reducing the cases of xerophthalmia but it is important that people make a change in their diet as well. There are many foods out there that are rich in vitamin A and it would be a shame not to take advantage of what nature has to offer to us.