Merck Manual

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Keratomalacia

(Xerotic Keratitis; Xerophthalmia)

By

Melvin I. Roat

, MD, FACS, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University

Last full review/revision May 2020| Content last modified May 2020
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Topic Resources

Keratomalacia is an eye disorder that involves drying and clouding of the cornea (the clear layer in front of the iris and pupil) due to vitamin A deficiency in people with undernutrition.

  • Vitamin A deficiency can lead to corneal ulcers and bacterial infections.

  • Vitamin A deficiency can lead to night blindness (poor vision in the dark).

  • Doctors diagnose keratomalacia based on the appearance of the person's cornea.

  • Treatment includes correcting the vitamin A deficiency with an improved diet or supplements and using antibiotic eye drops or ointments for any infection.

An Inside Look at the Eye

An Inside Look at the Eye

Symptoms

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.

Diagnosis

  • A doctor's evaluation

The diagnosis of keratomalacia is based on the presence of a dry or ulcerated cornea in an undernourished person.

Treatment

  • Antibiotic eye drops or ointments

  • Treatment of vitamin A deficiency and improvement of diet

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.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
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