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Xerophthalmia, Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Xerophthalmia is a progressive eye disease characterized by dry eyes. This disease can cause serious damage to the cornea in the form of white spots and corneal ulcers. If left untreated, this condition can lead to blindness. The main cause of the appearance of xerophthalmia is a lack of vitamin A or retinol. The function of vitamin A itself is to produce photoreceptor cells in the retina so that the eyes can see the full light. In addition, vitamin A is also needed to nourish other parts of the eye, including the cornea. The clear part on the front surface of the eye requires vitamin A to produce enough fluid to become an eye lubricant.

Groups of people who are prone to xerophthalmia are pregnant women and children. About 4.4 million children under five and 6 million pregnant women experience xerophthalmia every year. Handling of xerophthalmia must be done immediately with vitamin A supplement therapy. However, the treatment depends on the conditions and symptoms experienced by the sufferer.

Xerophthalmia, Definition, Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis, Treatment

Symptoms of Xerophthalmia

Xerophthalmia is usually characterized by the condition of the conjunctiva that dries, thickens, and begins to wrinkle. Other symptoms related to dry eyes include:
  • The view becomes blurred.
  • Eye fatigue.
  • Pain and eyes turn red.
  • The eyelids become thick.
  • Decreased ability in work that requires sharpness of vision and precision.

Furthermore, the symptoms of xerophthalmia that arise are not able to see in dim light (night blindness). This condition will get worse if followed by the appearance of Bitot spots (Bitot's spots) and corneal ulcers. If it is not handled, the most severe symptoms that can occur when part or all of the cornea becomes fluid can lead to blindness.

Causes of Xerophthalmia

Xerophthalmia is generally caused by a deficiency of vitamin A. Under normal conditions, vitamin A or retinol can be obtained from fat-soluble foods, both from animal food ingredients, such as fish liver, chicken, dairy products, eggs, vegetable foods (eg leafy vegetables green or yellow and orange), and red palm oil.

Vitamin A intake for healthy people is different based on age. For adult men, daily intake of vitamin A is 900 micrograms. For adult women, it is 700 micrograms per day. As for children, daily intake of vitamin A is around 600 micrograms for people under the age of 13, 400 micrograms for people under 8 years of age, and 300 micrograms for ages 1-3 years.

The group of people most vulnerable to xerophthalmia due to vitamin A deficiency are children and pregnant women. The reason is that this group needs more vitamin A nutrition. In addition to these two groups, people who have a condition unable to digest vitamin A are also at high risk of developing xerophthalmia. These conditions include:

  • Celiac disease, chronic diarrhea, cystic fibrosis, cirrhosis.
  • Underwent radioiodine treatment for thyroid cancer.
  • Experiencing alcoholism.

Diagnosis of Xerophthalmia

Determination of the diagnosis of xerophthalmia begins with knowing the history of the disease suffered, including habits and eating patterns that are lived. After that, the doctor can do an eye examination, including testing the adaptation of vision to light.

The eye examination can be followed by a blood test to determine the level of vitamin A in the blood. With this examination, it can be ascertained whether the patient has vitamin A deficiency or has other conditions. To strengthen the diagnosis, a bone x-ray examination can also be done to see bone growth that indicates a vitamin A deficiency.

Xerophthalmia treatment

After the patient is confirmed to suffer from xerophthalmia, the main treatment is in the form of vitamin A supplementation. This should be done especially for patients diagnosed with night blindness or night blindness. Vitamin A supplements aim to treat symptoms and help the eye to produce eye lubricant again.

To help speed healing of xerophthalmia, patients are recommended to:

  • Avoid climate or dry room conditions.
  • Use an air purifier or humidifier in the room.
  • Wear protective glasses that can slow evaporation of water from the surface of the eye.
  • Use an ointment, gel, or artificial tears. However, avoid tears with preservatives if you have to use it more than four times a day.
  • Rest your eyes after doing activities that require long-term visual acuity.
  • Giving antibiotics

If xerophthalmia has caused corneal damage, administration of antibiotics is needed to avoid further infection. Patients are advised to protect and cover the eyes as long as the lesions in the eye have not healed so that there is no infection.
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