How Is Your Vision? Anorexia Is Associated with Eye Damage


 maculaResearch is showing that fading vision is part of the anorexia experience.

Anorexia deteriorates the body like a fast forward of the aging process.  We now know that 17 year old girls with severe anorexia can have the fragile bones of what used to be considered a symptom of old age: osteoporosis . What my physiology professor at UCLA called "over forty eyes" when he reached for his reading glasses, is becoming noticeable in women of all ages who starve. How is your vision lately?

A small study of 33 women, average age 28, compared 13 women who were anorexic for an average of 10 years with 20 healthy women, measured electrical activity and thickness of the macula.  (Isn't the ophthalmogram lovely? It shows the macula as a spot to the left. The optic disc is the area on the right where blood vessels converge.)

(I had a patient suffering from macular degeneration.  It was progressive and results in blindness. She was in her mid fifties and had no history of anorexia. This medical condition, usually associated with older adults, may need to be redefined to include an association with anorexia nervosa .)

The article in Science Daily includes this description of the study:

The tests to determine how well the eyes picked up fine detail, central vision, and colour showed that there were no obvious visual problems and that the eyes were working normally in both sets of women.

But the analysis showed that the macula and the nerve layers feeding it (retinal nerve fibre layer) were significantly thinner in the eyes of the women with anorexia nervosa

There was also significantly less firing of the neurotransmitter dopamine (electrical activity) in the eyes of the women with anorexia nervosa. Dopamine neurotransmission is a key element of the brain's ability to process visual images.

There even seemed to be differences between women with different patterns of anorexia.

The fovea -- a small pit more or less at the centre of the macula that is rich in light sensitive cone cells (photoreceptors) -- was thinner in those women who binged and purged than in those who simply severely restricted their calorie intake.

The authors conclude that it is not yet clear whether macular thinning and decreased neurotransmitter activity are the initial stages of progressive blindness or whether these signs will revert back to normal once normal eating patterns are resumed.

For at least ten years, as a matter of routine, I ask new clients and people who call for treatment information to get a medical check up that includes a bone density test . The purpose of the bone density test is to discover if osteoporosis exists (it doesn't hurt) and to get a base line.  With a record of a base line future tests will show if osteoporosis is developing.

Now I will add to my routine, my request that new clients and callers see an opthamologist and get a macula check up for the same reasons: detection of problem (it doesn't hurt) and baseline to notice any deterioration in the future.

  1. Do you need stronger light to read clearly?
  2. Do your eyes get tired?
  3. Do you suffer from headaches that could be caused by eye strain?
  4. Do you get "bored" or "impatient" and put your reading down after a few minutes?
  5. Do you read better in the sunlight than indoors?
  6. Do you struggle with menus?
  7. Are traffic signs more difficult to read when you are driving?

Please get your eyes checked. Never doubt that high quality bones and eyes will contribute greatly to the quality of your life.

P.S. I was inspired to write this article because my book, Healing Your Hungry Heart: recovering from your eating disorder, just came out in a hard back, large print version through Thorndike Press. A few readers with a history of anorexia wrote to me expressing their gratitude for the large print because their vision was deteriorating.

Story Source:  materials provided by BMJ-British Medical Journal, via EurekAlert!, a service of AAAS.

Journal Reference:

  1. Marilita M Moschos, Fragiskos Gonidakis, Eleftheria Varsou, Ioannis Markopoulos, Alexandros Rouvas, Ioannis Ladas, George N Papadimitriou. Anatomical and functional impairment of the retina and optic nerve in patients with anorexia nervosa without vision loss. British Journal of Ophthalmology, 2010; DOI: 10.1136/bjo.2009.177899


Eating Disorders and Their Impact on the Eyes

Anorexia causes eye damage

Vision Impairment

Reversible vision loss secondary to malnutrition in a woman with severe anorexia nervosa, purging type, and alcohol abuse.


0 # Could it include cataracts?Melanie 2012-02-07 18:57
Could it include cataracts?
0 # I don't know. Cataracts and macular degepinkjoanna 2012-02-07 19:24
I don't know. Cataracts and macular degeneration both affect vision and are associated with aging. But whether they both are related to stress and damage created by an eating disorder is something I don't know.

You'd have to check with an ophthalmologist to see if there is current research available.

Whether they are related or not, you can be sure you are in a better situation to have healthy eyes if your body gets the nourishment it needs and doesn't have to go through the stress of purging

A problem with eating disorder thinking is that the concern is for the immediate. Consideration of the long term is lacking. The idea of actual being mature, then senior then really old doesn't have impact on decision making or even feel like a real consideration.

Yet, we all age until we die. And as we age, we are still who we are, feeling, thinking and caring about what is important to us.

We talk on this site about being kind, protective and respectful to the child we were. We need to learn to be kind to ourselves now out of respect and caring for who we are in the moment and in the far future when we are seniors.

0 # I have been wanting to comment on this bJan 2012-02-08 01:40
I have been wanting to comment on this but not sure what to write:-) Yes I have developed problems with my eyes since last year and i do believe it is associated with my eating disorder - it puts a lot of stress on your eyes when you throw up!!

The ophthamologist said I have chronic dry eye - this condition is quite painful and irritating especially when you wear contact lenses- and there is no cure- Sometimes it is better than others but i notice now that it occurs more now when am stressed-My vision also gets blurred but so far no change in my eyesight- But i will monitor it- thanks for this Joanna

So yes i can see how this can affect people with ED
0 # Jan, Ask about lacrimal implants forMelanie 2012-02-08 05:06

Ask about lacrimal implants for the chronic dry eye. I am still weighing pros and cons of the procedure. It is a small implant into the tear duct.

The feeling of having sand and grit in my eyes all the time is not pleasant to say the least.

Laura R
0 # Jan - I have had chronic dry eye for halLaura R 2012-02-08 07:28
Jan - I have had chronic dry eye for half of my life due to autoimmune disease. I tried just about everything and finally had to give up my contacts because my corneas were getting damaged. I did tried the punctual tear duct plug but those didn't work for me. They are definitely worth trying. There is also a drug called Restasis which is a drop that works well for a lot of people I know.
0 # my difficulty is with twilight driving..mylifex2 2012-02-08 08:19
my difficulty is with twilight driving...that time of evening when the sun is just is harder for me to drive far as the rest of my declining vision...I just thought it was part of getting older...and floaters...those are common for me
0 # Thanks Melanie/Laura - Yes i heard aboutJan 2012-02-08 16:27
Thanks Melanie/Laura - Yes i heard about this also i heard from another that having Lasik stops dry eye ? They gave me some thick gel to put in the eye at night then just natural tear drops=

Lets see -

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