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What is pterygium?
Sometimes referred to as surfer’s eye, pterygium (pronounced tur-IJ-ee-um) is a pink, fleshy tissue which grows on the conjunctiva of the eye. In more extreme cases, it can cover the pupil and cause vision problems. If you have more than one growth, the plural term for pterygium is pterygia (tuh-RIJ-ee-ah). In the event that it affects both eyes, it is known as bilateral pterygium.
What causes pterygium?
It is often associated with surfers who spend long hours out in the sun and have to contend with direct UV rays from the sun and reflective UV rays from seawater. It is not however, isolated to just surfers and can affect anyone who spends extended amounts of time out in the sun, regardless of whether they are an athlete or not. Fishermen, for example, are also at risk of this.
What are the symptoms of pterygium?
In many cases, people find they have no symptoms, the growth just shows up. Others may experience the feeling of something being in their eye. Itchiness, redness, a gritty or burning sensation are also common.
How is pterygium treated?
Treatment of pterygium depends on the size and whether it’s growing. It usually only requires surgery if the growth is big enough that it’s causing sight problems.
In milder cases, you may be prescribed mild steroids or lubricants by your doctor. These reduce swelling, redness and other irritating symptoms. Other treatments include topical cyclosporine and contact lenses used to cover the growth and to protect the eye from further UV exposure.
If surgery is required, there are several methods available. Your ophthalmologist will determine which treatment is best suited for you before performing the surgery. Procedures can be done at some GPs, or potentially at the hospital for more extreme cases, and usually takes no more than 30 minutes. In some cases, pterygium removal can cause astigmatism or worsen the condition for those who already have it. You’ll need to wear an eye patch to protect the eye for a few days, though you should be able to return to doing normal activates the next day.
It isn’t uncommon for pterygia to return even after surgery if the eye is continuously exposed to high levels of UV rays.
There are some preventative measures you can take to reduce the chances of reoccurrence. The most obvious is to wear glasses with built-in UV protection.
Mitomycin C, an agent which prevents scarring by inhibiting the reproduction of cells that produce scar tissue, may be applied at the time of or after the surgery. Another option is called autologous conjunctival autographing in which the eye surgeon may also glue a piece of surface eye tissue to the area affected.
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