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Pterygium - Causes, Symptoms, and Treatments

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Pterygium, sometimes also called "Surfer's Eye", is benign growth of the conjunctiva. For those of you without MDs, conjunctiva is a clear membrane that covers the white part of the eye (i.e., the sclera) and forms the inner lining of the eyelids. Pterygium is common among those who spend a great deal of time in the sun without any protective gear (i.e. sunglasses). It typically develops from the side of the nose towards the opposite corner of the eye.

Symptoms of Pterygium

In early stages, this eye disease can lead to frequent irritation in the eyes, redness, soreness, and a constant feeling of a foreign body present in the eyes. In some cases, it may even cause bleeding of the eyes. In advanced stages, Pterygium can obscure vision and potentially lead to scarring of the cornea - a serious condition that can cause astigmatism and long term loss of vision.

Pterygium is difficult to detect in the early stages because the symptoms are often low intensity and are overlooked by patients. Further, since this eye disease is found primarily among those who spend long hours outdoors, its early symptoms can be easily confused with a host of common eye problems, including simple infections or just simple eye strain. More often than not, this disease is detected only much later when it is already in the advanced stages, increasing the chances of degeneration into more serious eye problems.

Causes of Pterygium

Pterygium is common among those who spend long hours in the sun without any protective gear (hence the colloquial name: surfer's eye). Thus, it is commonly associated with extended exposure to UV rays or excessive wind (which can lead to dryness and itching). Suffers, water-sports enthusiasts, and snow-boarders/skiers tend to suffer from this disease as they are often exposed to harmful UV radiation that is amplified and reflected by the water/snow surface.

Prevention of Pterygium is as easy as wearing a pair of sunglasses when outside, and using artificial tear drops to keep the eyes well lubricated.

Treatment of Pterygium

In the early stages, this eye disease can be cured through administration of artificial eye drops alone. Preventive measures outlined above are usually very effective. A permanent cure without resorting to surgery in advanced stages, however, is unforthcoming. Even surgery requires extensive post-operation care, and the disease may manifest itself after a period of time.

As of now, a variety of treatments options are available to cure Pterygium, ranging from glue and suture application to irradiation and even membrane transplant. However, as mentioned above, the only fool-proof treatment method available to advanced stage patients is surgery, which itself may not be 100% effective.

Pterygium is an eye disease that can be very easily avoided. Curing it is easy in early stages, but that may only provide symptomatic relief. It is best to wear protective eye gear and avoid the occurrence of this disease altogether.
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