The growth just outside our eye. - Vista Eye Specialist

I noticed it as a child on my dad’s eye and pointed at this small raised, red spot on his left eye. “Daddy’s old,” he said. Years later, I slowly developed the same red area on both my eyes at the inner corners. It never went away and became increasingly uncomfortable, as though there was something stuck in my eye. My eyes became extremely sensitive to dust, pollen, household cleaning products and were very, very dry. And UGLY.

People I just met – including prospective employers, dates and doctors – all inquired as to the cause of my “ugly” eyes, right after introductions and before any casual conversation had a chance to take place.

Needless to say, I spent many years of my life being secretly shamed about my eyes. I felt less attractive and started avoided new people. For years, I did not pose for a single photo and when I found myself out of a job, I was terrified. Not because I worried about paying for rent, but I was fearful off the job interview – as I learned that your appearance factors in the interview, sometimes as much as talent and experience.

The red patch had grown across both my eyes – covering the entire white area – and approaching into the center. One day, my new employers interrogated me to find out the “real” reason for my “chronically red and sickly looking eyes”. In the end, i had to satisfy them by submitting to a drug test.

My self-confidence definitely suffered a great deal. After all, how can you literally look someone in the eye when you are desperately trying to hide your eyes?

What is it?

Pterygium often refers to a growth on the surface of the eye which starts from the side (normally near the nose) and moves into the center. It is generally yellowish or reddish, and looks like a flesh with red veins on it. Symptoms of pterygium include redness from smoking, inflammation, foreign body sensation, tearing, which can cause bleeding, dry and itchy eyes. In advanced cases, the pterygium can affect vision as it invades the cornea with the potential of obscuring the optical center of the cornea and inducing astigmatism and corneal scarring.

Its exact cause is unknown but is linked with excessive exposure to wind, sunlight, or sand. Therefore, it is more likely to occur in regions that are near the equator, as well as windy locations. Certain groups of people who are exposed to these conditions more than others such as people who work out in the open – such as farmers, fishermen – or who are often out for play such as surfers have higher risk. It is also twice more likely to occur in men than women.

Prevention

As it is associated with excessive sun or wind exposure, doctors suggest that wearing protective sunglasses with side shields, wide brimmed hats and using artificial tears throughout the day may help prevent their formation or stop further growth. Surfers and other water-sport athletes should wear eye protection that blocks 100% of the UV rays from the water, as is often used by snow-sport athletes.

Treatment

Today, there are a variety of options to choose for the management of pterygium. As the growth varies from individuals, surgery may not be needed unless it grows larger until it reaches the iris, obstruct vision, cause corneal changes that induce vision problems, or are a constant source of discomfort.

There are no reliable medical treatments that exist to reduce or even prevent pterygium progression, and definitive treatment is only achieved by surgical removal. However, long term follow-up is required as it may recur even after complete surgical correction.

The most common method used currently – Conjunctival auto-grafting – is a surgical technique that is an effective and safe procedure for pterygium removal. After the pterygium is removed, tissue removed from another part of the eye is used to replace the bare sclera then fixed with sutures. This reduces the chances of occurrence but can be somewhat painful and may be uncomfortable after the surgery.

However, selected eye specialists now use a special surgical glue to replace the need for sutures during the treatment to significantly reduce the pain and discomfort of the treatment. Though the cost of this treatment is almost double that of the normal treatment, more and more patients are opting for this treatment after hearing about it.