Vitamin A Deficiency and Chronic Dry Eye
Last updated: July 2021
Our bodies need vitamins to grow and develop normally. Vitamins provide energy and play a role in many processes that help us stay healthy.
Vitamin A is a key nutrient our bodies need to keep our skin, lungs, and immune system in good repair. It also helps protect our eyes. In fact, research shows that vitamin A plays an important role in chronic dry eye.1,2
What is vitamin A?
Vitamin A is a fat-soluble vitamin that is naturally present in many foods. There are 2 different types of vitamin A:1,2
- Retinol (preformed) – This type of vitamin A is found in meat, poultry, fish, and dairy products. It can be used directly by the body.
- Carotenoid (provitamin) – This type of vitamin A is found in fruits, vegetables, and other plant-based products. It is converted to retinol by the body after being eaten. Beta-carotene is 1 of the most common and effective types of vitamin A.
We need vitamin A for:1-3
- Vision and eye health
- Immune function
- Cell growth
- Skin health
- Bone health
Why is it important for the eyes?
One of the key functions of vitamin A is its role in vision and eye health. It helps protect the outside covering of the eye (cornea). Vitamin A also promotes good eyesight, especially in low light. The retinol form of vitamin A produces the pigments in the retina of the eye.1-3
How is it related to chronic dry eye?
Research shows that chronic dry eye can be caused by a lack of vitamin A. The effects can vary depending on the severity of the deficiency. Vitamin A deficiency can also lead to corneal dryness (xerosis).3
Studies have found that a lack of vitamin A can also have an impact on the quality of tears our body makes, as well as the tear film. This is the layer of fluid that covers the surface of the eye.3
A small 2019 study explored how vitamin A supplements might impact the tear film in people with chronic dry eye. The people in the study took a daily vitamin A supplement of 1,500 mg for 3 consecutive days. After 3 days, the smoothness of the tear film had improved in those who had taken the supplements. However, the supplements did not impact the number of tears they produced.3
More research is exploring the link between a lack of vitamin A and different eye conditions, including chronic dry eye. A better understanding of this link may lead to new treatments and ways to manage these conditions.1
How can I get enough?
It is uncommon for people in the United States to have a vitamin A deficiency. The best way to ensure you are getting enough vitamin A is to eat a healthy, balanced diet. If you are concerned about your diet and whether you are getting enough vitamin A, talk to your doctor. They may refer you to a nutritionist who can help you get enough sources of vitamin A.2
You can also talk to your doctor about using vitamin A supplements, and eye drops to improve symptoms of chronic dry eye. Topical vitamin A may help relieve chronic dry eye symptoms, improve the tear film, and support tear production. Preservative-free vitamin A eye drops may also help. Research shows they are more effective than other eye drops for symptoms of chronic dry eye.3,4
However, research also shows that oral vitamin A supplements are more effective than vitamin A eye drops and provide relief for longer periods of time. Before taking vitamins for chronic dry eye, tell your doctor about all your health conditions and any other drugs, vitamins, or supplements you are taking. This includes over-the-counter drugs. Vitamins may be “natural,” but they can affect your health and interact with other drugs you take.3,4
Has having dry eye helped you better advocate for yourself?