What do you need to know about Pterygium?
Pterygium is a growth of conjunctiva or mucous membrane covering the white part of the eye above the cornea, a triangular extension of degenerated bulbar conjunctiva (the transparent sheet above the eyeball) over the edge of the cornea. It typically appears at the palpebral fissure (eyelid opening) on the nasal side. This benign or non-cancerous growth is often wedge-shaped. Usually, a pterygium does not cause problems and does not require treatment, but it can be removed if it interferes with vision.
The exact cause of pterygium is not known. One explanation is that too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can lead to these growths. It occurs more often in people who live in hot climates and spend a lot of time outdoors in sunny or windy environments. People whose eyes are regularly exposed to certain elements are at greater risk of developing the condition. These elements include: pollen, sand, smoke, wind.
Pterygium can lead to severe scarring of the cornea, but this is rare. Corneal scarring must be treated as it can cause loss of vision. For minor cases, treatment usually involves eye drops or ointment to treat the inflammation. In more severe cases, treatment may involve surgical removal of the pterygium.
How do you know you need Pterygium surgery?
The decision to have pterygium removal surgery should be made after careful consideration and discussion with your ophthalmologist to make sure you understand the risks and benefits of the procedure.
Pterygium does not always show symptoms. When it does, the symptoms are usually mild. Common symptoms include redness, blurred vision and eye irritation. You may also feel a burning or itching sensation, constant tearing, grittiness in the eyes, dryness of the eyes. If a pterygium grows large enough to cover your cornea, it can interfere with your vision. A thick or larger pterygium can also cause you to feel that you have a foreign object in your eye. You may not be able to continue wearing contact lenses when you have a pterygium, because of discomfort.
Diagnosing a pterygium is simple. The ophthalmologist can diagnose this disorder based on a physical examination using a slit lamp. Possible additional tests may include:
- Visual acuity test – this test involves reading letters on an eye chart.
- Corneal topography – this medical mapping technique is used to measure changes in corneal curvature.
- Photo documentation – this procedure involves taking photographs to track the growth rate of the pterygium.
What treatments exist for Pterygium?
Depending on the stage of the pterygium, symptomatic medication may be recommended, consisting of artificial tears (with steroid anti-inflammatory), sunglasses with UV protection or surgery.
The surgical process consists of removing the membrane in an attempt to keep the cornea as transparent as possible and with a regular surface.
What does Pterygium surgery involve?
Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove the pterygium if eye drops or other treatments don’t work. Surgery is also recommended when a pterygium causes loss of vision or a disorder called astigmatism, which can lead to blurred vision. The surgical procedure may also be discussed if you want the pterygium removed for cosmetic reasons.
Pterygium surgery involves the removal of abnormal tissue from the eye’s sclera and cornea. The surgical process consists of removing the membrane, trying to keep the cornea as transparent and smooth as possible. Today’s techniques offer a significantly higher success rate than conventional surgery.
The surgery is a very quick procedure that takes less than half an hour. The eye will be completely numbed with the help of local anesthetic.
The surgery consists of removing the pterygium and replacing it with a tissue graft, which is glued in place. There are no sutures and the procedure is completely painless. You will wear an eye patch for a day or two. You can return to work or normal activities within a few days.
If you have the surgery, pay special attention to the eye in the following year. Most of the time, if pterygium reappears, it will happen within the first 12 months after surgery. After surgery, it is prudent to always wear sunglasses with frames outdoors.
What to expect after Pterygium surgery?
After pterygium surgery, it is normal to experience some discomfort and redness. It is also common to notice blurred vision during recovery. However, if you begin to experience difficulty seeing, a complete loss of vision, or notice an increase in the pterygium, schedule a visit to the clinic.
Healing after pterygium surgery usually takes a few weeks, during which time patients should rest as much as possible. You will be prescribed eye drops or ointments to use several times a day. In the first few days after surgery, patients may experience sensitivity to light, which can be managed by wearing dark glasses. Patients may also notice swelling or redness of the eye. These side effects should improve over time. The exact length of your recovery will depend on the size and severity of the pterygium and your personal healing progress.
Recovery is easy. In the first few post-operative days you will find that:
- the eye is red
- the eye is more sensitive to light
- vision is still blurry
What complications can occur after Pterygium surgery?
There are some risks associated with these surgeries. In some cases, a pterygium may reappear after being surgically removed. Also, your eye may feel dry and irritated after surgery. Your doctor may prescribe medication to give you relief and reduce the risk of pterygium growth.
Pterygium surgery generally has good results, especially in patients who comply with the prescribed eye drop schedule after surgery. There are some rare risks associated with pterygium surgery. These include:
- Eye swelling
- Double vision
- Prolonged redness
What are the specialist's recommendations after Pterygium surgery?
- Don’t drive until you have your doctor’s permission
- Don’t watch TV or read on the day of the surgery
- Wait 24 hours after surgery to shower or bathe
- Wash your eyes gently and keep them closed while you wash them with water
- Cover the eye(s) when sleeping using eye patches
- Do not apply makeup for one week after surgery
- Wait at least a week to exercise after surgery
- No swimming or contact sports for one month
- Avoid rubbing your eye(s) for at least three months after surgery
One of the common causes of regression is sun exposure. Wearing sunglasses regularly after the procedure can minimize exposure to UV radiation and greatly reduce your risk of Pterygium recurrence.
It is also imperative that you have all scheduled check-ups for 12 months after surgery to ensure your recovery is successful.
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