Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms

Karen Frazier
Apple and vitamins
Facts About Vitamin A

There are a number of vitamin A deficiency symptoms to watch for. Vitamin A deficiency can be present in cases of inadequate dietary vitamin A intake or malabsorption. Could you be deficient in this important nutrient?

About Vitamin A

Vitamin A is one of four fat soluble vitamins and one of 13 essential vitamins your body needs for health. It is an important nutrient required for a number of retinal functions including color vision and scotopic (low light) vision. Vitamin A also plays an important role in protecting immune function and promoting cell regeneration. It is found in plant and animal food sources in the form of retinol and carotenes. The recommended combined daily intake of vitamin A from food sources and supplementation is between 600 and 1700 micrograms a day for adults. Consistent vitamin A intake of less than this lower limit can lead to a host of vitamin A deficiency symptoms. Regular intake of amounts higher than the upper limit may lead to toxicity.

Common Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms

Are you deficient in vitamin A? Your body provides you with signals when it lacks essential nutrients. In the case of vitamin A deficiency, these signals can be quite clear.

Night Blindness

The primary indication that your body is low in vitamin A is night blindness or poor low light vision. Because your eyes use vitamin A to form a specific light absorbing molecule called retinal, it is necessary for both color vision and night or low light vision. Night blindness, also known as nyctalopia, is characterized by the inability to see clearly in low light conditions. People with night blindness cannot distinguish objects in the presence of inadequate light, but see clearly under normal light conditions. Vitamin A deficiency isn't the only cause of this condition, but it is usually the primary suspect at the onset of nyctalopia that hasn't been present since birth.

Dry Eye

Another eye-related symptom of vitamin A deficiency is chronic dry eye. Dry eye is characterized by a lack of tear production, a gritty feeling in the eyes and eye irritation. The eyeballs may also feel hard. There are a number of causes for this symptom besides vitamin A deficiency, but in many cases of dry eye, oral vitamin A supplementation may help to alleviate the condition.

Cornea Disorders and Blindness

In cases of severe, chronic vitamin A deficiency, whitening of the corneas (the clear part of the eye) and blindness may result. This extreme symptom typically only presents after years of vitamin A deficiencies caused by lack of adequate diet or undetected malabsorption disorders.

Other Symptoms

There are several less severe symptoms of vitamin A deficiency that may be present. These include:

  • Loss of taste
  • Poor wound healing
  • White spots on the inner corners of the eyelids
  • Other eye disorders such as conjunctivitis
  • Photophobia (extreme light sensitivity)
  • Macular degeneration
  • Dry skin
  • Scaly skin known as ichythiosis
  • Hyperkeratosis (bumpy skin caused by excess keratin production in hair follicles)
  • Dry, brittle hair
  • Peeling nails
  • Weakened immune system

Correcting Deficiency

In mild cases, correcting vitamin A deficiency is as simple as eating foods rich in vitamin A such as:

  • Carrots
  • Spinach
  • Sweet potato
  • Squash
  • Bell peppers
  • Kidney beans
  • Leafy greens
  • Calf's liver

In cases of severe vitamin A deficiency or vitamin A malabsorption, further treatment may be necessary. Because vitamin A is a fat soluble vitamin that can build up to toxic levels in your body over time, it is best to seek the advice of your personal health care provider before undergoing a more aggressive course of supplementation.

A Delicate Balance

It can be a balancing act to ensure adequate vitamin A intake while avoiding levels high enough to become toxic. The safest plan is to eat a variety of whole foods that contain a broad spectrum of nutrients. Regularly choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors can also go a long way toward providing your body with a balance of all of the vitamins and nutrients it needs.

Seek Medical Attention

If you feel you have an ongoing deficiency that isn't corrected by eating foods rich in vitamin A, you may want to talk with your personal health care provider.

Vitamin A Deficiency Symptoms