A teenager from Bristol has been left blind and deaf after years of only eating chips, Pringles, white bread, processed ham and sausages.
The unnamed teenager began to lose his hearing at the age of 14, with his eyesight also showing rapid deterioration.
By the age of 17, the boy was blind on account of his serious nutritional deficiency. The damage inflicted is said to be irreversible.
The teen was diagnosed with nutritional optic neuropathy (NON), a condition usually found only in regions struck with famine, war and disaster.
Speaking to The Sun, the teen, who asked not to be named, said:
I’ve become very isolated.
When I was little I’d go out and play football with my friends.
I’m too frightened to do that now.
He told doctors at Bristol Eye Hospital he didn’t drink, take drugs or smoke but that he’d eaten a limited diet for years.
The lack of vitamins in his diet had led to damage to his optic nerve, the nerve which connects the eyeball to the brain. He lost nerve fibres in the retina, the organ which transmits light signals to the brain.
The case is now being publicly discussed after it was written about by Dr Denize Atan, who has been treating the teenager at the Bristol Eye Hospital, in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.
Dr Atan told The Independent:
When this behaviour starts as a child it tends to continue as an adult.
The processed food was not the problem per se. It was he was only eating that type of food and nothing else.
Nutrients are extremely important for vision and hearing – but a lot of people are not aware of that.
Speaking to The Telegraph, Dr Atan said what’s most unusual about the case is that the extremely picky eating had gone on for so long, the diagnosis had been missed and the loss of sight had become permanent.
The teen was 14 when he was first taken to his GP complaining of tiredness but was simply labelled a ‘fussy eater’. Blood tests however found a B12 deficiency which causes fatigue and he was given vitamin injections.
It was aged 15 when his hearing began to deteriorate, followed shortly after by his sight, but an MRI found no structural damage to his ears.
Two years of progressive sight loss later, the teen was registered legally blind, his vitamin B12 injection prescription had lapsed, he had lower copper and vitamin D levels and had poor bone mineral density. It was at this stage he was diagnosed with NON.
Now 19, the teen has been left with no job and no social life, and has sadly been forced to drop out of his college IT course due to his health concerns.
He is said to suffer from an eating disorder called ARFID (avoidant-restrictive food intake disorder), a condition where sufferers avoid certain foods due to the texture, smell, taste or appearance.
His mother, who asked not to be named, told The Independent he began to develop concerning eating habits at the age of seven:
The first we knew about it was when he began coming home from primary school with his packed lunch untouched. I would make him nice sandwiches and put an apple or other fruit in and he wouldn’t eat any of it. His teachers became concerned too.
His brother and sister have never stopped eating. They love everything. But he was just as fit and healthy as them. He has always been skinny so we had no weight concerns. You hear about junk food and obesity all the time – but he was as thin as a rake.
The worried mother continued:
We couldn’t believe it when we were told what had happened. His sight went downhill very fast – to the point where he is now legally blind.
We are told the damage is irreversible; it’s been a nightmare. He has no social life to speak of now. After leaving school he got into college to do a course in IT but he had to give it up because he could not see or hear anything.
His mother has also quit her job to look after him full time but does not blame herself for her son’s poor diet.
She told The Sun:
I know I did all I could for him. I used to feed him fruit and vegetables and send him to school with a healthy lunch.
Much is spoken about the impact poor diet can have on a person’s BMI, but there is far less understanding of the effect this can have on bodily functions such as eyesight and hearing.
Hopefully this case will help to raise some vital awareness about ARFID, and will help both parents and children make sure they’re eating a well balanced and nutritious diet.
The charity Beat, is doing vital work to help those suffering with ARFID and other eating disorders.
If you’re experiencing distressing thoughts and feelings, the Campaign Against Living Miserably (CALM) is there to support you. They’re open from 5pm–midnight, 365 days a year. Their national number is 0800 58 58 58, and they also have a webchat service if you’re not comfortable talking on the phone.
Jules studied English Literature with Creative Writing at Lancaster University before earning her masters in International Relations at Leiden University in The Netherlands (Hoi!). She then trained as a journalist through News Associates in Manchester. Jules has previously worked as a mental health blogger, copywriter and freelancer for various publications.