PTERYGIUM, A Little-Known Eye Condition

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PTERYGIUM, A Little-Known Eye Condition
September 03
20:26 2016

Article Highlights

  • An eye condition whose symptoms include redness, irritation, a fleshy growth on the white of the eye and in extreme cases, obstructed vision
  • Pterygium is often linked with exposure to the sun, wind, dust and age
  • Coastal regions and fishing areas tend to be at a higher risk than those of us living on the mainland

We’ve all heard the expression “beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” but we tend to forget that beauty is also in the eye of the beheld—literally. Every day, we judge (and are judged) by our eyes. At any given moment, our eyes can reveal if we are being truthful, how confident we feel, and whether or not we are good listeners. No wonder they say the eyes are the window to the soul. So an unsightly eye condition could lower confidence, cause embarrassment or even result in a bad first impression. And while we’ve been told over and over to protect our eyes from the sun to avoid health issues like cataracts, diminished eyesight and skin cancer, there still exists a ittle-known condition—with a big name—that isn’t getting the attention it deserves.

Pterygi-What? PTERYGIUM [\TE-ˈRIJ-Ē-ƏM\]

An eye condition whose symptoms include redness, irritation, a fleshy growth on the white of the eye and in extreme cases, obstructed vision, a pterygium is often linked with exposure to the sun, wind, dust and age. Dr. Anna Yu, a Toronto optometrist who divides her time between Clearview Vision Institute and Toronto Eye Clinic, explained that pterygium in Canada is often asymptomatic, thus it is not as severe as the cases that occur in nations located near the equator. Optometrist Dr.

David Chu of King West Eye Care would likely agree: most of the severe cases that he encounters at his clinic are in patients from outside Canada.

Still, Canadians are not immune to what can be a recurring and lifelong condition. Dr. Christoph Kranemann, an ophthalmologist at Clearview Vision Institute, explained that Canadians in coastal regions and fishing areas tend to be at a higher risk than those of us living on the mainland. While occurrence rates are not very high—roughly five per cent in these higher risk areas—he estimated that half this figure is in the Greater Toronto Area, for example.

When It Affects Your Vision

While in most cases, the fleshy tissue will surface on the white part of your eye and go no further, there are rare cases where the tissue may start growing towards the centre of the eye. If it begins to cover the pupil, a patient’s eyesight will likely be affected. It is only when the pterygium obstructs a patient’s vision that surgery is considered, Dr. Yu explained, although this doesn’t happen very often. An optometrist for 16 years, Dr. Chu has referred fewer than 10 patients for the procedure, while Dr. Kranemann performs as few as 30 or 40 pterygium surgeries each year—a low number considering the tireless schedule of a surgeon, which in Kranemann’s case is filled with 2,000 to 2,500 surgeries annually.

When It Affects Your Looks

Cases of pterygium in Canada are rarely severe enough for optometrists to refer their patients for surgery, however it is often patients who opt to have it surgically removed—not for health reasons, but to improve the appearance of their eye. In fact, Canadian patients are typically most concerned with how a pterygium has affected their looks. The “most common complaint” Dr. Chu hears at his clinic? Chronic redness in the eye.

“[The patient’s] friends and family will ask about it and assume they are tired, intoxicated or have some kind of pink eye,” he said.

PTERYGIUM, A Little-Known Eye Condition

PTERYGIUM, A Little-Known Eye Condition

While there are non-surgical methods for minimizing redness (“artificial tears or a short course of mild steroid drops prescribed by your eye care professional,” said Dr. Yu and “fit[ting] patients with coloured contact lenses,” said Dr. Chu), for some unhappy patients, surgery is the only satisfactory option.

Dr. Andrew Budning, a member of the Board of Directors of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, confirmed that pterygium surgery is covered in provincial health plans across Canada. However, patients should be aware of the potential side effects of this surgery that can include “recurrence, delayed healing, inflammation, thinning or ulceration of tissue, tissue adhesion, eye movements and blurring of vision.” Although there is a high recurrence rate associated with the traditional way of “simply removing the pterygium,” Dr. Yu has good news too: with adjunct therapy (e.g., topical medication, tissue grafts, or amniotic membrane placement), the recurrence rate can be reduced considerably. But the aforementioned risks are still there. No surgery can guarantee pterygium will not return, so it is always a good idea to talk to your doctor about all of your treatment options, the associated risks and the chance of recurrence before deciding to undergo surgery.

Don’t Stare At The Sun

Whether you eat carrots every day or spend every waking hour in front of a computer, the most important thing you can do for your eyes is protect them from the sun. Purchasing a good pair of UV-blocking sunglasses and making a habit of wearing them year round are sound ways to prevent pterygium from making an unwanted appearance.

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