What Is Xerophthalmia?

Xerophthalmia is a progressive eye disease characterized by dry eyes. This disease can cause serious damage to the cornea of the eyes in the form of white patches and corneal ulcers. If left untreated, this condition can lead to blindness.

The main cause of the emergence of xerophthalmia is a deficiency of vitamin A or retinol. The function of vitamin A itself is to produce photoreceptor cells in the retina so that the eye can see the light completely. In addition, vitamin A is also needed to nourish the other parts of the eye, including the cornea. The clear part of the front surface of the eye requires vitamin A in order to produce enough fluids to lubricate the eyes.

Groups of people susceptible to xerophthalmia are pregnant women and children. Approximately 4.4 million children under five and 6 million pregnant women experience xerophthalmia each year. Handling xerophthalmia should be done immediately with vitamin A supplement therapy. However, treatment depends on the condition and symptoms experienced by the patient.

Symptoms of Xerophthalmia
Xerophthalmia is usually characterized by conjunctival conditions that dry out, thicken, and begin to wrinkle. Other symptoms associated with dry eye include:
  • View becomes blurred.
  • Eye fatigue.
  • Pain and eyes become red.
  • Eyelids become thick.
  • Decreased ability in work that requires visual acuity and thoroughness.
Furthermore, the symptoms of xerophthalmia that appear are not able to see in the dim light (night blindness). This condition will be more severe if followed by the incidence of spotting Bitot (Bitot's spot ) and ulcer cornea. If left untreated, then the most severe symptoms that can occur when part or all of the cornea becomes fluid until it leads to blindness.

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

Vitamin A intake for healthy people is different by age. For adult men, daily intake of vitamin A is as many as 900 micrograms. For adult women is as much as 700 micrograms per day. As for children, vitamin A intake per day is about 600 micrograms for under 13 years old, 400 micrograms for under 8 years, as well as 300 micrograms for 1-3 years of age.

The most vulnerable group of people experiencing xerophthalmia due to vitamin A deficiency are children and pregnant women. The reason, this group needs more vitamin A nutrients. In addition to these two groups, people who have a condition not able to digest vitamin A are also at high risk for 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 the habits and diet that lived. After that, the doctor can perform eye examinations, including testing the adaptation of vision to light.

Eye examination can be followed by a blood test to determine levels of vitamin A in the blood. With such examination, it can be ascertained whether the patient has vitamin A deficiency or has other conditions. In order to confirm the diagnosis, bone marrow X-ray examination can also be performed to see bone growth indicating a vitamin A deficiency.

Treatment of Xerophthalmia
After the patient is confirmed to have xerophthalmia , the main treatment is in the form of vitamin A supplementation . This needs to be done especially for patients who are diagnosed with farsightedness or night blindness (night blindness). Vitamin A supplements aim to overcome the symptoms and help the eyes re-produce lubricating fluid.

To help speed up the healing of xerophthalmia, patients are encouraged to:
  • Avoid climate or dry room conditions.
  • Use an air purifier or moisturizer inside the room.
  • Wear protective glasses that can slow evaporation of water from the surface of the eye.
  • Use ointment, gel, or artificial tears. However, avoid tears with preservatives if you have to use them more than four times a day.
  • Resting the eyes after performing activities that require long-standing visual acuity.

Giving antibiotics

If xerophthalmia has already damaged the cornea, antibiotics are needed to avoid further infection. Patients are advised to protect and cover the eyes as long as the lesion on the eye has not healed so that no infection occurs.

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