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Celiac Disease and Eye Conditions

Eye Issues Caused by Vitamin A Deficiency

The characteristic intestinal damage caused by celiac disease often leads to vitamin deficiencies. Common deficiencies seen in celiac disease patients include iron, zinc, vitamins D and B12, as well as vitamin A. A 2013 study on Dutch patients recently diagnosed with celiac disease found that 7.5% had a vitamin A deficiency (though this was the least common deficiency—the most common was zinc deficiency, at 67% of newly diagnosed patients).

Vitamin A is crucial to the proper functioning of the eyes, so vitamin A deficiencies can cause numerous eye problems, some of which are listed below.

  • Night blindness (nyctalopia) People with night blindness can’t see well or at all in the dark or in dim locations.
  • Dry eyes (conjunctival xerosis) People with xerophthalmia have abnormally dry eyes, to the point where holes or sores may form on the cornea, a clear layer that covers the eye. They may also have Bitot’s spots, which are silver-gray spots (sometimes triangles) that form on the whites of the eyes. They may appear to be “foamy.” The dryness can lead to scarring, and eventually blindness.
    • Note, if you suffer from dry eyes but none of the other symptoms mentioned, check out Sjögren’s disease.
  • Blindness In rare cases, vitamin A deficiency can progress to vision loss. This is most often due to excessively dry eyes, which causes scars to form on the eyes.

Vitamin A supplements can cure night blindness and dry eyes, but cannot fix blindness caused by scarring to the eyes.

Getting Enough Vitamin A

If you have a vitamin A deficiency because of celiac disease, it is important to eat gluten-free. Over time, your small intestine should heal, and the vitamin A deficiency could heal on its own. If your doctor has told you that you have a vitamin A deficiency, they may prescribe supplements.

Patients with celiac disease should incorporate foods with vitamin A into their diet, such as carrots, pumpkin, sweet potatoes, squash and spinach, as well as meats and eggs. Spices like paprika and cayenne pepper are also great sources of vitamin A.

Other Eye Conditions Associated with Celiac Disease

There are a few other eye conditions that can be associated with celiac disease and are not caused by a vitamin A deficiency.

Cataracts

A cataract is a cloudy lens in the eye that obscures vision. Someone with cataracts may describe their vision as blurry, hazy, or like they’re looking through a foggy window. Things may also appear less colorful than usual.

A study from 2011 found that those with celiac disease are at an increased risk for developing cataracts. More research is needed to confirm the connection between cataracts and CD. It’s worth mentioning that developing cataracts is also a normal part of aging, and is easily fixed with a simple procedure.

Uveitis

Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, a part of the eye. Symptoms tend to come on quickly and worsen quickly. They include redness, pain, sensitivity to light, blurred vision, and seeing floating dark spots. Uveitis can cause permanent blindness, so it’s important to get your eye checked out if you have the symptoms listed.

A study from 2012 found “a moderately increased risk of uveitis […] in patients with biopsy-verified CD.”

A case study reported on a patient who had uveitis that was not responding to treatment. This patient was eventually diagnosed with celiac disease and put on the gluten-free diet. Within three months, GI symptoms and uveitis had improved, and after six months the patient had remission of symptoms and uveitis. The study authors also report two other case studies with similar findings.

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