Night blindness is the earliest symptom; but unfortunately, infants and toddlers are not in a position to reveal this symptom. In the next stage, dry patches develop over the conjunctiva due to cellular changes. This is known as conjunctival xerosis. In the third stage, white raised areas known as Bitotâ€™s spots form over the conjunctiva. The fourth stage is characterized by dryness of the cornea, giving it a granular appearance.
Ulceration of the cornea occurs in the last stage of the disease. The cornea softens, liquefies, and then heals, leaving behind an opaque cornea. This stage is medically referred to as keratomalacia. In some cases, the ulcer may lead to a perforation in the cornea leading to shrinkage and disfigurement of the eyeball. The patient loses his eyesight completely in such cases. A newborn tends to suffer from vitamin A deficiency if its mother suffers from the same throughout pregnancy.
Xerophthalmia is treated on an urgent basis by administering 110 mg of retinol palmitate or 66 mg of retinol acetate (200 000 IU) orally. If the patient is suffering from severe diarrhea or is vomiting, 55 mg of retinol palmitate (100 000 IU) water soluble preparation is injected intramuscularly. However, the focus should be on preventing the disease rather than curing it. For this reason, educating the masses about vitamin A deficiency and the natural sources of the vitamin is important.
The best sources of beta carotene, the precursor of vitamin A, are mango, papaya, pumpkin, yellow sweet potatoes, carrots, and palm oil, as well as eggs and liver. Dark green leafy vegetables are known to contain useful amounts of beta carotene but this is not very well absorbed because it is mostly present in the chloroplasts of plant leaves, which are not well digested. The absorption of beta carotene is better if there is oil or fat in the meal.
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Tags: Beta carotene, Bitot's spots, Blindness, Carrots, Conjunctival xerosis, Eggs, Keratomalacia, Liver, Mango, Night blindness, Palm oil, Papaya, Potatoes, Protein energy malnutrition, Pumpkin, Retinol acetate, Retinol palmitate, Vitamin A deficiency, World Health Organization, Xerophthalmia