Healthy eyes

Iron Deficiency in Eyes

Does it feel like your eyes are burning? Do you have dark circles under them? These could be just some of the symptoms of iron deficiency in eyes. Let's take a look at the causes, effects, and treatment options for this.

Last Update: 22 December 2023Created by: betterviewReading time: 8 minutes
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Symptoms of Iron Deficiency in Eyes

If the body does not have enough iron available, it cannot produce enough haemoglobin, the red blood pigment. This limits the production of red blood cells in the body and causes anaemia. A reduced amount of red blood cells means less oxygen is transported in the blood throughout the body.

Like all other organs, the eyes are supplied with oxygen via the blood. If you are suffering from anaemia, it is possible that your eyes may be affected, among other things.

The following symptoms of iron deficiency in the eyes may occur:

  • Dark circles under the eyes
  • Burning or painful eyes
  • Blurred vision

Let’s take a closer look at each of these symptoms.

Dark Circles Under the Eyes

Nahaufnahme von Frau mit dunklen Augenringen

The most common symptom of iron deficiency and eyes is having dark circles underneath them. They occur, for example, after childbirth when women lose a particularly large amount of blood. If dark circles appear, regardless of childbirth or recent surgery, it may be an indication that the body may not be able to adequately meet its iron needs. It's best to have your blood values ​​checked by a specialist, as this is the only way to make a reliable diagnosis and initiate sensible treatment for iron deficiency.

Tip: You can use the following trick to quickly determine whether you may be suffering from iron deficiency in eyes - pull your lower eyelid down with your finger and take a close look at the inside of the eyelid. If the inside of your eyelid is not red, but rather pale or yellowish, this could be an indication of an iron deficiency.

Burning or Painful Eyes

Frau an Schreibtisch mit beiden Händen über den Augen

An iron deficiency can cause a burning sensation in the eyes. However, burning or painful eyes do not necessarily indicate an iron deficiency - exhaustion and prolonged staring at a computer screen, for example, could also lead to pain in the eye area. A diagnosis by an ophthalmologist will confirm whether an iron deficiency is the cause of painful or burning eyes.

Tip: If your eyes are tired due to prolonged working with a screen, eye exercises may alleviate the discomfort.

Blurred Vision

Unscharfe Lichter

If your eyes are tired and burning due to an iron deficiency, this can also cause your vision to become a little blurry. However, if your vision is permanently impaired, it is more likely that poor eyesight or eye disease is the cause.

Do you have problems recognising people or objects at a distance? Our free, printable Landolt eye test can give you an indication of possible nearsightedness.

Other Symptoms of Iron Deficiency

Insufficient iron intake also typically causes the following symptoms:

  • Hair loss
  • Brittle nails
  • Concentration problems
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Pale complexion

When iron levels are low in the body, less oxygen reaches different parts of the body - including the brain. Tiredness and fatigue can impact your mental performance, such as forgetfulness and difficulty concentrating.

What is Iron?

Iron is a trace element, making it essential for life. Trace elements are minerals that exist in living tissues in minute amounts. Among other things, it is responsible for the transport of oxygen in the human body.

Red blood cells contain a protein called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin is the red blood pigment that contains iron and binds oxygen in the body. Iron is stored using the protein ferritin while the protein transferrin does the job of transporting iron throughout the body. It transfers iron to places in the body such as the liver, spleen, and bone marrow. Iron, ferritin, and transferrin levels largely depend on age, gender, and diet.

Rote Blutkörperchen

How Does Iron Deficiency Occur?

If the body absorbs too little iron or red blood cell production diminishes, an iron deficiency can occur.

Iron deficiency affects around 1 billion people worldwide, with the most common cause being a lack of iron in the diet. Other common causes include malabsorption of blood in the body, chronic blood loss, pregnancy, and menstruation.

A medical professional can confirm iron deficiency through a blood test. There are different laboratory values ​​that can be measured to determine the iron balance in the body, including the following:

  • Ferritin value: Ferritin is found primarily in the bone marrow, liver, and spleen. Stored iron makes up around 25% of total iron in the body, of which most is stored in ferritin. The ferritin value, which is determined from the blood in a laboratory, allows for a reliable statement to be made about the amount of iron present in the body, as well as the filling status of the iron stores.

  • Haemoglobin value: The haemoglobin (Hb) concentration indicates the amount of red blood pigment in the blood. Serum ferritin is an important laboratory value as a measure of the filling status of the iron stores. Your doctor can use this value to determine whether your iron stores are full, reduced, or even depleted. If the value is too low, an iron deficiency is present.

  • Transferrin saturation: Transferrin saturation indicates how heavily these transport proteins are loaded with iron. Too low transferrin saturation means that the body has too little iron available.

Zwei Blutproben auf hellgrünem Hintergrund

Causes of Iron Deficiency

From an unbalanced diet to pregnancy and age, there are several potential causes of iron deficiency.

Unbalanced Diet

A balanced diet is important to maintain a healthy body and prevent iron deficiency in eyes. A lack of iron can be caused if your diet consists of too little protein, such as a vegetarian or vegan diet. Meat provides essential nutrients such as protein, iron, zinc, and B vitamins.

On the other hand, diets without animal products do not necessarily provide less iron. Many vegans and vegetarians with a balanced diet consume a relatively high amount of iron from foods such as wholegrain products, legumes, leafy vegetables, and fortified foods. The difference, however, lies in the organic utilisation of iron by the body.

The iron supplied from a purely plant-based diet is less easily absorbed. If the iron intake is not high enough to compensate for the lower absorption rate and meet the body's needs, the body has to rely on its iron stores. These are gradually emptied, which is why an iron deficiency can develop almost unnoticed.

Other dietary-specific causes of iron deficiency include those with nutritional disorders and even alcoholics.

Verschiedene Hülsenfrüchte und Getreide

Sports

The risk of iron deficiency is higher in athletes than in non-athletes. Athletes' muscles are put under greater strain, which leads to an increased need for iron - especially in the diet. Many competitive, endurance-focused athletes, such as runners, also have a very carbohydrate-rich diet which could contribute to less iron intake.

Blood Loss

Blood donations and blood loss after major surgery are among the most common causes of iron deficiency.

But menstruation in women and bleeding caused by an illness may also require an increased need for iron. For example, stomach ulcers can be the cause of chronic bleeding. Patients with intestinal diseases such as celiac disease (gluten intolerance), for example, must maintain a strict gluten-free diet for life so that their intestines remain healthy and can digest food effectively. At the time of diagnosis and change of diet, the intolerance leads to significant damage to the lining of the small intestine, resulting in impaired digestive function and nutrient absorption.

Pregnancy

Childbirth causes blood loss, which impacts the levels of iron in the body. Since pregnancy places a strain on the mother's iron stores, childbirth in particular leads to an increased need for iron, and the risk of iron deficiency anaemia is greater. Furthermore, breastfeeding may also increase the need for iron intake, with the necessary average iron intake for breastfeeding women being 9mg.

Age

In old age, an iron deficiency can occur due to a changing diet. For example, many older people avoid meat due to difficulty chewing. This means that divalent heme iron, which is easier for the body to absorb, is not available in sufficient quantities for many older people.

In addition, in old age, many important nutrients are less efficiently utilised by the body, which can also lead to iron deficiency. The causes here probably lie in physiological changes in the gastrointestinal tract.

Treatment Options for Iron Deficiency

In most cases, an iron-rich diet is recommended to treat iron deficiency. A varied diet usually contains enough iron to cover your daily requirements. Fish, nuts, and meat in particular contain a lot of iron. Vegetarians and vegans should pay particular attention to including enough iron-rich plant foods in their diet.

Dietary supplements are also recommended to improve iron absorption. These are usually over-the-counter iron preparations that contain divalent iron. In the case of severe iron deficiency anaemia, iron can also be treated intravenously, which is more effective than taking tablets.

Nahrungsergänzungsmittel verstreut auf weissem Hintergrund

Ways to Prevent Iron Deficiency

The NHS recommends the following amount of daily iron intake:

  • 8.7mg for men aged 19 and over.
  • 14.8mg for women aged 19 to 49.
  • 8.7mg for women aged 50 and over.

For menstruating women, the recommended daily intake is 14.8mg.

Balanced Diet

A balanced diet is fundamental to ensuring you get the right amount of iron.

The following foods are good sources of iron:

  • Lean red meat
  • Chicken and turkey
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Legumes and beans
  • Nuts
  • Tofu
  • Leafy green vegetables such as broccoli and curly kale

If you follow a vegan or vegetarian diet, legumes are a good source of iron: white beans, lentils, soybeans, and chickpeas each have between 6 and 9 milligrams of iron per 100 grams. However, the body cannot absorb iron from plant sources such as legumes or oatmeal as well as that from animal products, which is why attention should be paid to a higher iron intake

Some foods can inhibit iron absorption, such as red wine, tea, coffee, soft drinks and chocolate. This is because the antioxidants they contain bind the iron, meaning it can no longer be absorbed by the intestines. Even good plant sources of iron such as spinach, legumes, and wholegrain products contain certain substances that inhibit absorption. Fortunately, there are also substances that do the opposite such as Vitamin C.

Regular Blood Tests

Regular blood tests are important to monitor your overall health, including your iron levels, If you fall within a particular risk group prone to iron deficiency, regular blood tests are even more important. Contact a medical professional for advice on how to get regular blood tests.

From maintaining a healthy diet to scheduling regular eye check-ups, maintaining the health of your eyes is essential to living a quality life. If you need any help determining whether you are iron deficient, don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional.

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