Boy Goes Blind After Eating Only Meat, Potatoes and Cereal, for 'Eczema Treatment Diet'

Updated | When it comes to heart health, the importance of a good diet is often talked about, but the effects of what you eat on eye health are discussed less often. The case of an 11-year-old boy in Canada who went blind after failing to eat vegetables is a good reminder that diet is important for our vision, too.

A report about the unidentified child, published in JAMA Pediatrics, said he suffered from vision problems for eight months, which included night blindness, light sensitivity and progressive loss of sight. Doctors note that he was able to detect hand movements only at up to 11 inches from his face. Aside from vision problems, the child didn’t have any other concerns—no pain, headaches or fever.

Related: The app that helps blind people see 

Additionally, he’d long suffered from dry eyes and developed what’s known as Bitot spots. The spots have a foamy appearance and are a sign of vitamin A deficiency, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Tests confirmed that the boy was low in the nutrient, measuring at 14.33 micrograms per deciliter. The report notes that healthy ranges fall between 25.79 and 48.71 micrograms.

pcg170007f1 The unidentified 11-year-old boy developed cloudy spots on his eye as a result of a vitamin A deficiency. JAMA Pediatrics

The patient’s severe vitamin A deficiency was a result of a restrictive diet that consisted of only potatoes, pork, lamb, apples, cucumber and Cheerios. Doctors explained that the young boy suffered from eczema triggered by food, which was the reason for his nutrient-poor diet. Foods rich in vitamin A include carrots, sweet potatoes, dark leafy greens, fish and liver.

A series of vitamin A mega doses were used to treat the boy, which helped clear up the Bitot spots and restored him to 20/800 vision. Anything higher than 20/200 is considered legally blind, and the patient’s vision loss is likely to be permanent.

While uncommon in North America, the World Health Organization (WHO) says that vitamin A deficiency is the most prevalent, preventable cause of blindness in kids. Mostly affecting developing nations, particularly in Africa and Southeast Asia, blindness increases the risk of infections, diseases and even death.

As supplements and vitamin-enhanced foods are prevalent in western countries, this makes the case extremely rare. Dr. Mark Steele, pediatric ophthalmologist at NYU Langone, says he's surprised by the case. 

"I’m impressed that he even developed that to be frank," he remarks, noting that Cheerios are enhanced with vitamins. 

"In all my years of seeing hundreds of thousands of kids, I’ve only seen one case of this," he explains of a patient who only ate chicken fingers. Steele says there is no timeline for how long it would take for a poor diet to impact eye health, but estimates vision could decline after six months without proper nutrition. 

While our western diets don't make us prone to blindess, it can cause other vision problems. Steele believes our heavily processed foods have too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3s, which could contribute to eye problems like macular degneration and cataracts in older people as well as cysts and dry eyes in children. 

His best advice to eat for eye health? Follow food author Michael Pollan's motto: "Eat food, not too much, mostly plants."

This story has been updated to include remarks from Dr. Mark Steele. 

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