Reports have emerged of a teen who slowly went blind as a result of his poor diet despite having no visible signs he was malnourished. The damage to his eyesight was ultimately traced to the lack of nutrition in his diet, which for years consisted of nothing but fries, chips, white bread, slices of processed ham, and sausages. The case study has been published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
The teen’s problems began at age 14 after he visited his family doctor complaining he was tired. Tests revealed he was anemic and had low levels of vitamin B12. He was treated with injections of vitamin B12 along with advice on how to improve his diet.
By age 15, he developed hearing loss and vision problems. Doctors couldn’t seem to find the cause. An MRI scan revealed no structural problems with his ears and an eye test failed to reveal any structural cause for his issues. When the boy was 17, an eye test showed that his vision was 20/200 in both eyes, the threshold for being “legally blind” in the United States.
Tests showed his body was deficient in nutrients including B12, as well as copper, selenium, and vitamin D. Doctors also discovered the boy had suffered damage to his optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that connects the back of the eye to the brain. By the time the teen was diagnosed, his vision loss was permanent and could not be helped with glasses, because damage to the optic nerve cannot be corrected with lenses.
After learning about his diet, which the boy said he had followed since elementary school, he was diagnosed with avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder and nutritional optic neuropathy, or damage to the optic nerve that results from nutritional deficiencies. Despite his highly restricted diet, the boy had developed normally and had an average height, weight, and BMI. Clinicians prescribed him nutritional supplements, and referred him to a mental health service for treatment for the eating disorder.