Keratomalacia (also called xerotic keratitis or xerophthalmia) is drying and clouding of the cornea (the clear layer in front of the iris and pupil) due to vitamin A deficiency and usually insufficient protein and calories in the diet.
The surface of the conjunctiva (the membrane that lines the eyelids and covers the white of the eye) and cornea dries, sometimes leading to corneal ulcers and bacterial infections. The tear glands are also affected, resulting in an inadequate tear film and dry eyes. People with extreme eye dryness can develop foamy spots (Bitot spots) on the conjunctiva. Night blindness (poor vision in the dark) may develop because of the effects of vitamin A deficiency on the retina. The diagnosis of keratomalacia is based on the presence of a dry or ulcerated cornea in an undernourished person.
Antibiotic eye drops or ointments can help cure an infection, but correcting the vitamin A deficiency and undernutrition with an improved diet or supplements is also important.
Last full review/revision November 2012 by Melvin I. Roat, MD, FACS