Author - Jenny Tam (Optometrist)
Ever seen those scary-looking pink, fleshy bits in the corner of people’s eyes? What is that, you ask? That raised pink, fleshy triangular-shaped lump of tissue growth is called a pterygium (pronounced tuh-RIJ-ee-uhm) or pterygia (pronounced tuh-RIJ-ee-ah) for the plural form of pterygium. It can look nasty but it isn’t cancerous and cannot spread inside the eye or to other parts of the body.
Pterygia usually starts on the white of the inner corner of the eye (on the side closest to the nose) and grows towards the centre of the cornea. They can also develop on the outer corner (the side closer to the ear) and can show up in one or both eyes.
The main cause is spending lots of time in the sun - excessive exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) without eye protection appears to be the primary cause for pterygia to develop. Other factors like dust, sand, wind and dry eyes can also contribute to these growths.
Pterygia is usually painless but it can cause annoying symptoms. It may feel like there is something in the eye; a gritty, itchy or burning sensation. Often, pterygia can get inflamed and irritated, making the eyes look even more angry and red! The optometrist or eye specialist may prescribe lubricating eye drops, ointment or a mild steroid eye drop to relieve these symptoms and reduce the swelling and redness.
There are no natural treatments for this condition, the only treatment to remove a pterygium is surgery by an eye specialist. It is preferable to remove the pterygium before it grows across the cornea. Otherwise, the pterygium may scar the front surface of the eye and can cause permanent vision problems! Unfortunately, pterygia can recur even after surgical removal possibly due to continual ultraviolet (UV) exposure.
So what’s the best solution? Prevention, prevention, prevention!
Wear wraparound dark sunglasses every day to shield the eyes against ultraviolet light (UV), dust, wind and other irritants from all angles. Now, this includes overcast days because clouds do not stop UV light! Wear them in the car too because the side car windows don’t protect against the UV rays as much as the windshield. Choose dark shades that will block up to 100% of ultraviolet A and B radiation. Check with the optometrist to see which style is most suitable.
So the key is: slip slop slap on those dark wraparound sunglasses and a broad brim hat during the day to prevent those unsightly pterygia!
By Jenny Tam.
Optometrist at 1001 Optical.
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