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Pterygium: A Fearsome Eye Disorder

HIGHLIGHTS:

  • If a pterygium is left untreated, it can make any subsequent treatment difficult and potentially leave the patient with less clarity of vision. Severe cases may even lead to permanent blindness.
  • Working outside, prolonged exposure to sunlight without the use of protective eyewear, or regular exposure to wind, dust, smoke, air pollution or chemicals, these are all potential causes of pterygium.
  • Modern methods of surgery to remove a pterygium decrease chances of the condition returning to less than 1% in cases where patients avoid any risk factors post-surgery.

 

People suffering from a pterygium will tend to lose self-esteem and may even fear making eye contact with others due to the presence of a clearly visible muscular coating that extends from the whites of the eyes to the cornea. Moreover, the condition can have a long-term effect on a person’s vision if left untreated for an extended period of time, which also makes any treatment much more difficult. Additionally, neglecting the condition completely can lead to a tumor which could close both eyes, meaning that patients could lose their sight altogether.

Symptoms

Patients will observe a muscular coating beginning to protrude into the cornea which tends to emanate from the nasal part of the eye rather than the temporal side. The disorder may affect one or both eyes. Patients usually experience irritation alongside redness or soreness, in conjunction with the eyes watering. If the condition is allowed to develop until the pterygium reaches the pupil itself, the patient’s vision will become blurred.

Causes and risk factors

Pterygium occurs due to an irregularity in the eye’s conjunctiva that leads to this part of the eye degenerating and becoming thicker. This continues until it reaches the point where a muscular coating protrudes from the whites of the eye into the cornea. A symptom of this is the patient’s vision becoming blurred.

The true causes of pterygium remain unclear. Large numbers of cases are found in tropical countries located around the equator where the sun’s rays are at their strongest, the weather is quite dry and dust can be present in the wind. It has also been found that the pterygium disorder is not exclusive to the elderly whose conjunctivas have already begun to deteriorate. Working-age men and women are also at risk if they are exposed to any of the following factors:

  • Eye dryness as a result of regular exposure to wind, smoke, air pollution or chemicals.
  • Working outside and regularly being exposed to sunlight without wearing protective eyewear.
  • A family history of the condition, with a parent or sibling who has suffered from a pterygium.

Prevention

  • Avoid going outside while the sun is at its brightest. If you must do so, make sure you wear a hat, carry an umbrella and wear sunglasses to shield yourself from the sun’s rays.
  • Avoid pollutants, dust and smoke by wearing eyeglasses or other devices designed to protect the eyes.
  • When your eyes begin feeling fatigued or overly dry, rest the eyes by closing them for a moment or by refocusing.
  • If you experience eye dryness, use some non-steroidal eye drops after consultation with your doctor or local pharmacist.
  • If you experience a pterygium, seek medical attention as soon as possible to receive the proper treatment. Do not use herbal eye drops in any case, as these may lead to eye inflammation or a serious infection.

Pterygium removal surgery

If the condition is in its early stages, surgery will not be necessary. Prevention of any further swelling can be carried out by wearing sunglasses which effectively protect against UV rays, alongside the use of eye drops to manage the inflammation as directed by your doctor.

However, in cases where the pterygium expands, causing frequent bouts of swelling and a reduction in sight, doctors will advise patients to undergo pterygium removal surgery. People tend to become quite anxious at the thought of such a procedure, but this form of surgery takes under one hour to complete and patients are usually allowed home immediately afterwards, with no overnight stay in hospital necessary.

Nevertheless, patients who have undergone pterygium removal surgery may be at risk of the condition returning. However, current surgical techniques combined with post-surgery treatment in the form of eye drops mean that the chances of a pterygium returning are less than 1% when patients carry out proper post-surgery eye care and avoid exposure to the aforementioned risk factors.

Preparing for surgery

  • Follow your doctor’s advice, meaning that you may be required to cease some forms of medication before undergoing surgery.
  • Wash your face and hair thoroughly before undergoing the procedure, as the eyes cannot be exposed to water for 7 days after the surgery has been completed.

Post-surgery care

  • Be sure to follow your doctor’s advice.
  • Take pain relief medication as advised or when the pain increases in severity.
  • Attend all doctor’s appointments until your recovery is complete.
  • Avoid any risk factors which can potentially cause a pterygium making a return.

Although a pterygium has the potential to become severe, the surgery to remove it is uncomplicated. It takes just a short amount of time and is extremely safe. That being said, a pterygium should not be overlooked or neglected in any way. Protective eyewear should be worn at all times, whenever it is necessary to go outside during the sunniest times of the day. Furthermore, a diet high in vitamin A – which can be found in green vegetables, milk, egg yolks as well as yellow- and orange-colored fruits – is recommended to increase conjunctival strength.


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