Did you know that 250 million children across the world suffer from vitamin A deficiency? A serious health problem among children in many developing countries, it could even result in death when left untreated.1
Your eyes, skin, your bones all count on the vitamin A you bring in through food. But what if you aren’t getting enough? While rare in developed countries, a vitamin A deficiency can spell trouble for your whole body. This fat-soluble vitamin has a vital role to play, be it in eye health, wound healing, reproduction, or bone formation. It also helps the immune system function properly and helps keep your skin and the mucous membranes that line parts of your body, such as your nose, healthy. If the possibility of a vitamin deficiency is bothering you, here are some red flags to watch out for.2
1. Night Blindness
Low levels of vitamin A can cause a lack of rhodopsin, which is a light-sensitive protein present in your eye. And the lack of this protein impairs vision in dim light. You may, therefore, find it difficult to see properly at night when you have vitamin A deficiency. Watch out for telltale signs like difficulty driving at night. Or are you finding it increasingly tougher to make your way to the bathroom when the lights are off? You may even find yourself turning on the lights earlier and earlier in the evenings. The loss of vision is progressive, so you’ll see these signs getting worse with time.3
Night blindness is harder to notice in children because they may not know enough to complain about it. As a parent, have you noticed your child behaves differently once there’s no light or when they are in a dark room? If the child is inactive or apprehensive about moving around, probe further.4
2. Dry Eyes
Changes in the way you see are usually the first and most prominent sign of vitamin A deficiency. “Xerophthalmia” is the term used to indicate the range of eye problems triggered by vitamin A deficiency.
People with vitamin A deficiency find that the glands in the mucous membrane that lines the inside of their eyelids and coves the front of their eyes no longer function properly. This results in a lack of tears and mucus, which serve to keep the eyes wet. So dry eyes that get easily irritated can point to a vitamin A deficiency. 5
3. Dry Skin, Rashes, Broken Nails
Fatigue or constant tiredness may be another early sign. Though it may seem non-specific, like itching or dry skin, probe further, especially if there are clear eye-related symptoms accompanying these.
Vitamin A plays a part in the formation and maintenance of healthy skin. And sometimes, in the early stages of vitamin A deficiency, you will notice dry, scaly, itchy skin (pruritus). The dryness might even extend to your hair, causing it to break and fall frequently. Bumpy skin or rashes like acne, mouth sores, and cracked lips are other telltale signs. Your nails may also start to break off easily.6
4. White Or Silver Gray Foamy Spots In The Eye
Another sign of a vitamin A deficiency is the formation of foamy spots known as Bitot’s spots in the whites of your eyes. Bitot’s spots can be triangular or irregular in shape and usually appear at the 3 o’clock or 9 o’clock positions. They will appear slightly raised and look more like skin rather than a mucous membrane. They are essentially formed from a buildup of keratin because of the drying out of the cornea.7 8
5. Corneal Ulcers And Blindness
Without proper treatment, a deficiency in vitamin A can lead to the development of sores or ulcers in the eyes. An ulcer in the eye may look like a tiny punched-out area or have a fluffy appearance. Eventually, damage to the eyes can result in blindness. In fact, vitamin A deficiency is the main cause of preventable blindness in children – but one that is more commonly observed in the developing world.9 10
6. Frequent Infections
Frequent throat, chest, bladder, or stomach infections accompanied by eye problems may indicate a vitamin A deficiency.
Vitamin A has earned the name “the anti-infective vitamin” because of its vital role in the proper functioning of the immune system. Your skin and the mucosal cells which line your urinary tract, digestive tract, and airways function as a barrier and first line of defense against infection. And vitamin A plays a part in the formation and well-being of these cells.11 A deficiency in this critical vitamin can impair immunity and leave you vulnerable to a range of infections, including bladder infections, respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal infections, and vaginal infections.12 Stomach infections and problems like diarrhea are also common.
7. Growth Retardation In Children
In children with severe vitamin A deficiency, normal growth and development can slow down. 13
Your Vitamin A Requirement Varies Based On Your Gender And Age
The intake of vitamin A varies based on your age, gender, and whether or not you’re pregnant or nursing. Male adults, in general, need 900 mcg RAE and female adults 700 mcg RAE. If, however, you have a baby on board, you’ll need 770 mcg RAE (750 mcg RAE for teen mums).14 Lactating women need 1,300 mcg RAE (1,200 mcg RAE for teen moms). Vitamin A is available in a variety of veggies, fruits, meat, and dairy products, so a balanced diet that explores different food groups should help you get enough of this vital vitamin.15
Ideally, you should be able to meet your daily value (DV) by having varied food sources of vitamin A. However, should you choose to opt for supplements, consult your doctor to avoid drug interactions and toxicity.
|↑1||Micronutrient deficiencies. World Health Organizations.|
|↑2||Vitamin A deficiency. DermNet NZ.|
|↑3, ↑6||About Vitamin A and Vitamin A Deficiency. NHS Trust.|
|↑4||Gilbert, Clare. “The eye signs of vitamin A deficiency.” Community eye health 26, no. 84 (2013): 66.|
|↑5, ↑7||Gilbert, Clare. “The eye signs of vitamin A deficiency.” Community eye health 26, no. 84 (2013): 66.|
|↑8||Keratomalacia. National Organization for Rare Disorders.|
|↑9||What Is Vitamin A Deficiency? American Academy of Ophthalmology.|
|↑10||Gilbert, Clare. “The eye signs of vitamin A deficiency.” Community eye health 26, no. 84 (2013): 66.|
|↑11||Vitamin A. Oregon State University.|
|↑12||About Vitamin A and Vitamin A Deficiency. NHS Trust.|
|↑13||Vitamin A. Merck manual.|
|↑14||Vitamin A. Office of Dietary Supplements.|
|↑15||Vitamin A. National Institutes of Health.|