Can Anemia Affect Your Eyes?

by May 5, 2022

There are several types of anemias which are all blood conditions caused by a lack of sufficient red blood cells. These anemias can affect your eyes and vision in several ways.

What is Anemia?

The term anemia is used to describe a blood condition in which there are too few functioning red blood cells.

Red blood cells are the most abundant cell in the blood and are responsible for carrying oxygen and nutrients throughout the body.

In an anemia, there are not enough of these red blood cells that are functioning properly to carry out these functions normally.

What Causes Anemia?

In the United States, the most common type of anemia is iron-deficiency anemia and is caused by a lack of the mineral iron.

The iron deficiency can be a result of a poor diet, excessive bleeding, or the inability to absorb iron properly from the intestines.

Another prominent cause of anemia is a vitamin B12 deficiency related to a genetic condition which prevents the uptake of B12 vitamins from the intestines. This anemia is called pernicious anemia.

While much less common, it is possible for an anemia to be caused by destruction of red blood cells from an outside factor such as a medication.

Medications such as acetazolamide and chloramphenicol are known to cause this aplastic anemia as a side effect in rare cases.

How Does Anemia Affect the Eyes?

An anemia causes abnormal blood flow and wound healing throughout the body. This includes throughout the eyes.

There is an increased risk of a blood vessel rupturing in the back of the eye or in the white of the eyes.

The small blood vessels in the conjunctiva can also become very constricted and cause the eyelids to appear pale.

Aside from the risks that are associated with the changes in blood vessels and blood flow, anemias can cause damage to the retina and optic nerve due to a lack of oxygen.

If the red blood cells are unable to provide a supply of oxygen to the eye, the tissues will begin to be damaged and, if unable to receive oxygen for an extended period of time, will have permanent loss of function.

This is the biggest risk with the eyes regarding anemias. If the condition is severe, it may lead to irreversible vision loss.

How is Anemia Treated?

An anemia is treated based on the cause of the condition. Each anemia is addressed by first addressing the underlying cause of the anemia then treating any remaining symptoms.

For iron deficiency anemia, the treatment includes iron supplementation using iron pills or intravenous injections.

In this case, if the body is able to receive enough iron to recuperate, it may only need treatment for a short time but, if the body is still unable to receive iron or absorb the iron, it may need to be a prolong or permanent treatment.

For pernicious anemia, a vitamin B12 shot is used to supplement the lack of the ability to uptake the vitamin from the intestines. This will be a chronic treatment.

For aplastic anemia, the treatment includes removing the causative agent and then treating any remaining symptoms aggressively.

In all cases, any symptoms or problems in the eyes will be addressed in addition to the systemic treatments.


Our eye doctors at Wilmington Family Eye Care in Wilmington, DE excel in prescription of glasses, contact lenses and the diagnosis of a variety of eye diseases. Call our optometrists at 302-299-1286 or schedule an eye exam appointment online if you would like to learn more about how anemia affects your eyes. Our eye doctors, Drs. Daniel Baruffi, Amy Quan, Patricia Jones, and Joseph Goldberg provide the highest quality optometry services and eye exams in Wilmington, Delaware and its surrounding areas.

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