When first discovered they were called “vital amines” – now they are called “vitamins” – and it’s appreciated by everyone how important and indeed vital these chemicals are in our bodies to help them function efficiently.

Some vitamins have well known sources and functions – vitamin C in oranges for instance helps to maintain the immune system and ward off colds and flu. Vitamin C is water soluble so that if too much is taken then the body removes the excess through the kidneys.

Too many oranges – no problem!

Some other vitamins are NOT WATER SOLUBLE BUT ARE FAT SOLUBLE.

Fat soluble vitamins are stored in cells of the body – take too much of them and they just stay where they are! To add to the problem, the amounts of fat-soluble vitamins needed for healthy living are much less than the amounts of water soluble types.

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin and the body is very sensitive to too much of it, to the extent of being toxic. But we DO NEED SOME OF IT!

As far as the eyes are concerned vitamin A is essential in assisting vision, especially in the dark, and in maintaining surface cells of many parts and linings of the body and importantly, they eyes.

What happens if there isn’t enough Vitamin A?

If the body is deficient in vitamin A several things start to happen:

•    Skin and hair become dry

•    Eye lubrication fails, leading to “Dry Eye Syndrome”

•    Fingernails become broken

•    Resistance to infection is compromised

•    Seeing in the dark becomes difficult

Of all of these symptoms the development of dry eye syndrome can be the most devastating as it affects children very seriously, to such an extent that they can become blind.

The medical term for the dry eye syndrome is Xerophthalmia and is prevalent amongst babies and children up to the age of 10 in the poorer countries of the world – the disease is relatively unknown in Western societies.

Some 200 million children suffer from the debilitating effects of vitamin A deficiency and the effects of xerophthalmia.

The course of the disease is the gradual lack of tears produced by the lacrimal glands followed by keratin nodules appearing on the eye. Thereafter night blindness develops until finally ulcers are formed on the cornea; total blindness then results

Treatment of xerophthalmia and vitamin A deficiency

Treatment depends upon the stage at which the condition has developed.

If eyes are showing symptoms of dryness it can be alleviated by eye drops and ointments. The vitamin A deficiency itself is easily treated, but of course it all depends on the resources and infrastructure available as to whether this can be achieved.

It’s very easy to say “take vitamin supplements and continue to eat foods such as milk, eggs, liver and green vegetables” but it may be another matter entirely for people living in countries having an undernourished population.

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