Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms Diagnose Prevention & Treatment

Have you ever seen small children with big glasses and have you ever thought about what stress could have their little eyes suffered at this young age? How much TV could they have seen? Since when is learning ABC an “eye soring” activity? The answer to this is that they probably have Vitamin A deficiency. 

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that helps in forming and maintaining healthy eyes, skin, lungs, gastrointestinal tract, and nervous system. It is a prime ingredient in the formation of rhodopsin, a photoreceptor pigment in the retina. It also helps maintain epithelial tissues and is important for lysosome stability and glycoprotein synthesis. 

Vitamin A is of two types, preformed vitamin A is also known as retinol, it is generally found in foods like dairy products eggs, fish, and meat. Another type is provitamin A which is responsible for converting carotenoids into vitamin A in plants foods, like red, green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables.

Provitamin carotenoids are absorbed better when vegetables are cooked or homogenized and served with some fat. 80%-90% of Vitamin A is absorbed by the liver and it releases directly into the circulation moving towards prealbumin and retinol-binding protein.

The reason I gave the example of a small child in the beginning instead of an adult is that this deficiency is most prominent in pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, infants and children. Thus, making children the most vulnerable to this insufficiency. Luckily developed countries don’t face the problem of vitamin A deficiency but in developing countries, it is one of the major health deficiencies.

Causes of Vitamin A Deficiency 

The main cause of vitamin A deficiency or any deficiency for that matter is dietary deprivations. In many developing countries, among other challenges that they face, lack of nutrition is one of the biggest challenges and it poses a grave threat to the future of those countries. Lack of nutrition comes with a fair share of problems that can cause many physical and mental inadequacies especially among children, and if the children of a nation are at risk then the entire future of that country is at risk.

Vitamin A deficiency is widespread in regions like South Asia because of their intake of rice, which is free from beta-carotene, as their primary food. It is also the prime cause of xerophthalmia which is the common cause of blindness among children in developing countries. The secondary cause of this deficiency is reduced bioavailability of provitamin A carotenoids and intervention with absorption, storage, or transport of vitamin A. 

Symptoms of Vitamin A Deficiency 

1. Dry Skin

Vitamin A is essential for cell creation and repair and is also vital in preventing skin inflammation. Lack of vitamin A in the body can result in skin diseases like eczema. To fight such conditions medicine called alitretinoin, which is rich in vitamin A, is usually prescribed. Low vitamin A can also be characterised by acne and breakouts, people with vitamin A less than 80 mcg in their bodies are prone to pimples. 

2. Slow Healing of Wounds

Another insufficiency related to the skin caused by vitamin A deficiency is the slow healing of wounds. Vitamin A produces an important component of the skin called collagen which is responsible for sustaining healthy skin. Both oral and topical vitamin A are necessary for the strengthening of the skin, oral vitamin A improves collagen creation whereas topical vitamin A heals diabetes-related wounds and wounds of elderly people.   

3. Dry Eyes

The absence of vitamin A in the body doesn’t only dry out but can also cause dry eyes, which is characterised by the inability of the eyes to produce tears, if there is a chronic deficiency of vitamin A in the body then it can also lead to complete blindness, night blindness and dead corneas. Mostly children in developing nations in Southeast Asia are most vulnerable to vitamin A deficiency due to poor diet. It is for this reason that vitamin A supplements were produced for them which led to a decreasing trend in dry eyes among infants and children. 

4. Trouble Conceiving

Another sign that you might be suffering from vitamin A deficiency can be deduced if you are having trouble conceiving. Vitamin A is necessary for reproduction in both men and women, so before jumping to other conclusions over why you can’t conceive make sure to check if the reason is lack of vitamin A in your body. Vitamin A deficiency has been one of the leading cause of defected embryos, miscarriages and in severe cases, infertility

5. Stunned Growth

Keeping the topic of conceiving and miscarriages going let’s move a little forward, pregnant women aren’t the only ones who suffer the consequences of this deficiency, vitamin A deficiency can cause several diseases and insufficiencies among children of all ages. Vitamin A is a chief nutrient for children during their formative years and its absence can result in improper development of the body causing stunted growth.

6. Throat and Chest Infections

Throat and chest infections are also a symptom of the lack of vitamin A in the body. If someone has a throat infection, it is very unlikely of him to think that he has vitamin A deficiency and he will probably blame it on external factors, but if throat and chest infections are frequent occurrences from him then there is a good chance the reason behind it is vitamin A deficiency. 

Diagnosis of Vitamin A  

In clinical terms, diagnosis of vitamin A can be determined by dark adaption, but since dark adaptation can be impaired in other diseases like cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, pigmentosa etc. hence rod scotometry and electroretinography are conducted to decide whether a person suffering from vitamin A deficiency or not. 

Apart from that, serum levels of retinol are measured, the normal range varies from 28 mcg/dl to 86 mcg/dl and the only time the level decreases from the normal range is when the person is suffering from vitamin A deficiency. It is because the liver stores a large amount of vitamin A. 

Prevention from Vitamin A Deficiency 

Vitamin A deficiency can be prevented by eating dark green leafy vegetables, deep- or bright-coloured fruits, carrots, and yellow vegetables, milk and cereals, liver, egg yolks, and fish liver oils. In case of milk allergies in infants, vitamin A can be given in formula feedings. 

Alternatively, 2,00,000 units of prophylactic supplements of vitamin A palmitate in oil must be given orally after every 6 months to children between 1 and 5 years of age. Infants under the age of 6 months must be given a one-time dose of 50,000 units and infants aged 6 to 12 months can be given a one-time dose of 100,000 units.

Treatment of Vitamin A Deficiency 

In case a person has been diagnosed with vitamin A deficiency then the best possible treatment can only be provided by a professional doctor. 60,000 units of Vitamin A palmitate in oil must be taken orally once a day for two days which must be decreased to 4500 units orally once a day. 

In case of vomiting, xerophthalmia or malabsorption, for infants under the age of 6 months, a dose of 50,000 units, for infants aged 6 to 12 months 100,000 units, for children above 12 months and adults 200,000 units should be given for 2 days, followed by a third dose at least 2 weeks later. In the case of pregnant or breastfeeding ladies, only 10,000 units a day of prophylactic or therapeutic doses should be given to prevent possible damage to the fetus or infant. 

Excess of Vitamin A 

Although Vitamin A is crucial for our overall development, excess intake of it can lead to conditions like hypervitaminosis A. It stems from taking a high dosage of vitamin A supplements over a long period. Excess vitamin A stored in the liver can also result in vision changes, swelling of the bones, dry and rough skin, mouth ulcers and confusion. Taking too much vitamin A can lead to birth defects among pregnant women. For anyone’s information, the suitable amount of vitamin A needed by an adult is 700 – 900 mcg per day, nursing women and children need less than this quantity.

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