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Vitamin A Deficiency Signs and Symptoms

vitamin A deficiency signs

Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin essential for many functions of the body, including a good immune system and proper vision. However, Pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, infants, and children are the ones at the highest risk of VA deficiency. This article reviews vitamin A deficiency signs and symptoms.

Night Blindness

Deficiency of vitamin A may cause night blindness. Several observational studies show that night blindness is the sign of VA deficiency (1, 2, 3).

In one research in women with night blindness took vitamin A in the form of food or supplements. Both sources of vitamin A improved night blindness by 50% in 6 weeks of treatment (4).

To preserve a healthy vision, it is essential to receive sufficient amounts of vitamin A from food. Night blindness is the first symptom of vitamin A deficiency.

Delayed Growth in Children

Children not receiving enough vitamin A can experience stunted growth. This is because vitamin A is necessary to make the human body grow properly.

Several studies have shown that vitamin A supplements can boost growth, alone or with other nutrients. However, most of these studies are performed in children (5, 6, 7).

Nevertheless, a study review found that vitamin A supplementation in combination with other nutrients may have a greater impact on growth than supplementation with vitamin A alone (8, 9).

For example, children with stunted growth receiving multiple vitamins and minerals scores better than those receiving only vitamin A (10).

Acne

Since vitamin A stimulates skin health and battles inflammation, it can also prevent acne. Different studies show that low levels of vitamin A can increase acne (11, 12).

Vitamin A can be topical and oral used to treat acne. Research shows that vitamin A cream can reduce the number of acne lesions by 50 percent (13).

Isotretinoin is the most known source of oral vitamin A used for treating severe cystic acne. This medication may be very effective in treating acne but may have several side effects, including changes in mood and birth defects (14).

Frequent infections

Frequent infections can be a sign of vitamin A deficiency, especially in the throat or chest. Vitamin A supplements can help with infections in the respiratory tract, but research results are conflicting.

Research in children found that underweight children taking 10,000 IU of vitamin A per week had fewer respiratory infections than those getting a placebo (15).

In another study in children found that excessive vitamin A may increase the risk of developing infections of the throat and chest by 8 percent. Therefore, Vitamin A supplements are for those who are true deficit (16).

According to one study in elderly people, top blood levels of provitamin A can protect against respiratory infections (17).

Delayed Wound Healing

Wounds that cannot recover well after injury or surgery may be associated with low levels of vitamin A. This is because vitamin A encourages collagen production, which is an important component of healthy skin.

Recent rat research has found that treating skin with vitamin A has proven to prevent diabetes-related wounds (18).

Research shows similar results in humans. Elderly men who treated wounds with vitamin A reduced the size of their wounds by 50 percent compared to men who did not use the VA cream (19).

Infertility

Vitamin A is important for male and female reproduction, and for proper growth in babies. If you have trouble getting pregnant, one reason may be a lack of vitamin A.

Studies show that female rats with vitamin A deficiency are having difficulty getting pregnant, and may have birth defect embryos (20).

Some research suggests that infertile people may be more in need of antioxidants because of increased levels of oxidative stress throughout their bodies. Vitamin A is one nutrient in the body which acts as an antioxidant (21).

The deficiency of vitamin A can also cause miscarriages. Research testing the blood levels of different nutrients in women with recurrent miscarriages showed that they had low vitamin A levels (22).

Dry Skin

Vitamin A is important for developing and repairing skin cells. It also helps to reduce inflammation due to some skin problems (23).

Not having enough vitamin A could develop eczema and other skin problems (24).

Eczema is a swollen, itchy and inflamed skin condition. Alitretinoin, a prescription medication with vitamin A, can be effective in the treatment of eczema in several clinical studies (25, 26).

In one 12-week study, people with chronic eczema who took 10–40 mg of alitretinoin per day observed a reduction of their symptoms up to 53 percent (27).

However, dry skin can be because of many reasons, but vitamin A deficiency may be one of those reasons.

Dry Eyes

Eye problems are among the most well-known vitamin A deficiency. In many cases, vitamin A deficiency can lead to complete blindness called Bitot’s spots (28, 29).

One of the first symptoms of a vitamin A deficiency is dry eyes or the inability to produce tears. Young children in India and Southeast Asia who have a vitamin A deficiency are at the highest risk of dry eyes (30).

Vitamin A supplementation may improve the condition. One study found that high doses of vitamin A decreased the symptoms of dry eyes by 63 percent in infants and children who were taking supplements for 16 months (31).

Side Effects of Too Much Vitamin A

Too much Vitamin A can be dangerous. Excess vitamin A in the liver can cause toxicity and adverse symptoms such as changes in vision, bone swelling, mouth ulcers, and confusion (32).

In particular, pregnant women should be careful not to eat or take too much vitamin A to prevent birth defects. Always consult with your health care provider before taking vitamin A or any other supplements.

People with certain types of health can require a greater amount of vitamin A. Most healthy adults, however, require 700–900 mcg daily. Females who nurse need more, while children need less (33).

The Bottom Line

Inflamed skin, night blindness, infertility, and respiratory infections can be the signs of vitamin A deficiency. You can get vitamin A from meat, dairy and eggs, and plant foods. Eat a variety of these foods to ensure you are receiving enough vitamin A. Talk to your doctor or health care provider if you think you have a vitamin A deficiency.

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Marwa Khan MS
Marwa Khan is a licensed dietitian nutritionist and editor at DefatX. She writes for several national publications where she promotes women’s health, healthy living, and body positivity.
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