How does anorexia affect eyesight?

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The eyes, like any other organ, need proper nutrients to function. People living with anorexia nervosa (AN) typically don’t consume enough food to fully nourish their bodies. This malnutrition leads to physical changes and complications, including to the eyes and vision. (1)

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Does anorexia affect the eyes?

Yes, anorexia nervosa can affect the eyes. One common eye condition seen among people with anorexia is orbital fat atrophy, which is when the fat cells around the eyes shrink. Orbital fat atrophy can lead to lagophthalmos, a condition that keeps the eyes from completely closing while sleeping. When the eyes can’t close during sleep, it can irritate the eyes. (2) 

One study found women with anorexia had physical changes to their eyes. (1) The research analyzed the macula, the part of the eye responsible for processing light and registering details in the center of vision. The women with anorexia had a significantly thinner macula, and the nerves surrounding the macula appeared thinner. Women with anorexia also had less dopamine neurotransmission, which helps the brain process images.

Does anorexia affect vision?

In the study that looked at women’s macula, researchers found no evidence of vision discrepancies. But they did note the physical changes of the macula were early signs associated with progressive blindness. Further research is needed to determine if the changes were permanent or reversed once an individual heals from anorexia. (1) 

More studies found reversible acute vision loss in women with anorexia due to malnutrition. (3) Vitamins play a crucial role in a person’s vision. Vitamin A keeps the cornea clear, vitamins E and C protect eye cells, and various forms of vitamin B can help prevent common eye conditions, such as glaucoma. (4) Not getting enough of these vitamins can result in impaired vision.

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Treatment for vision and eye concerns related to anorexia

The first step often suggested for treating vision concerns related to anorexia is to seek help for anorexia, as it is the underlying cause of the eye complications. Usually, when the body receives steady nourishment, damage to the eyes will reverse.  Depending on the severity of the eating disorder, individuals may have the option of inpatient or outpatient programs.

If an individual develops lagophthalmos, they may have the option of surgery, depending on the severity. The surgical procedure used to treat lagophthalmos is called tarsorrhaphy. A tarsorrhaphy involves sewing the top and bottom eyelid together to narrow the opening. Doctors perform this surgery to protect the cornea and reduce irritation. (5)

Anorexia is a very serious, complex condition that doesn’t get better without treatment. It takes courage to get help, and the team at Within Health understands seeking treatment is not easy. But we’re here to help when that time comes. 

If you suspect you or someone you know may have anorexia, please reach out to our admissions team.

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Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.

Resources

  1. ScienceDaily. (2010, October 20). Anorexia nervosa may cause potentially serious eye damage. ScienceDaily. Retrieved from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2010/10/101019212918.htm
  2. Gaudiani, J. L., Braverman, J. M., Mascolo, M., & Mehler, P. S. (2012). Lagophthalmos in severe anorexia nervosa: A case series. Archives of Ophthalmology, 130(7), 928. https://doi.org/10.1001/archophthalmol.2011.2515
  3. Mroczkowski, M. M., Redgrave, G. W., Miller, N. R., McCoy, A. N., & Guarda, A. S. (2011). Reversible vision loss secondary to malnutrition in a woman with severe anorexia nervosa, purging type, and alcohol abuse. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 44(3), 281–283. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.20806
  4. Meixner, M. (2018, July 25). The 9 most important vitamins for eye health. Healthline. Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/eye-vitamins#TOC_TITLE_HDR_8
  5. Rajak, S., Rajak, J., & Selva, D. (2015). Performing a tarsorrhaphy. Community Eye Health, 28(89), 10–11. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4579993/

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