Xerophthalmia secondary to alcohol-induced malnutrition

David P Roncone
Optometry: Journal of the American Optometric Association 2006, 77 (3): 124-33

BACKGROUND: Xerophthalmia refers to the ocular manifestations associated with vitamin A deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency can be caused by numerous disorders, including alcohol-induced malnutrition. The ocular manifestations of xerophthalmia include conjunctival and corneal xerosis (drying), keratomalacia (corneal necrosis/ulceration), nyctalopia (night blindness), and Bitot's spots (conjunctival lesions).

CASE REPORT: A 47-year-old white male with complaints of dryness and difficulty seeing at night presented to our clinic for consultation from general medicine to rule out xerophthalmia. Laboratory testing and general medicine, psychiatry, and nutrition evaluations confirmed the systemic diagnosis of alcohol-induced malnutrition. He admits that his alcoholism was induced by depression. Confirmed associated disorders compounding the malnutrition include alcoholic cirrhosis, protein deficiency, and megaloblastic anemia. The patient had xerophthalmia diagnosed in the optometry clinic as a result of symptoms, slit lamp examination signs, and the associated disorders. The associated disorders were treated with systemic medications and vitamins. Ophthalmic treatment consisted of carboxymethylcellulose-based artificial tears.

CONCLUSIONS: Although xerophthalmia and vitamin A deficiency are more common in underdeveloped countries, their presentation in the United States may be induced by conditions such as liver cirrhosis, malnutrition, and alcoholism. This report summarizes ocular manifestations of alcoholism and presents a case of xerophthalmia secondary to alcohol-induced malnutrition and the role of optometry in its treatment and management.

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