A Common Cause of Discolouration and Discomfort in Your Eye
Do you have a bump or discoloration on the white of your eye? Do you constantly have bloodshot eyes? You could have a common eye condition that is known as surfer’s eye or farmer’s eye, even if you are not a surfer, or a farmer!
There are two eye conditions that are related to this condition: pinguecula and pterygium, and once you know the causes it will become clear why this eye condition was often found among surfers or farmers.
Pinguecula and pterygium are linked because one can develop from the other, but while they are both benign, non-cancerous growths, one may simply be irritating at times, while the other can become a serious eye condition resulting in loss of vision.
Pinguecula and pterygium are both growths on the conjunctiva of the eye, the thin layer of tissue that covers the white part of the eye. If you noticed any of the symptoms below, it’s best to book an appointment with your Kelowna optometrist as soon as possible.
What Causes Pinguecula?
While the cause is not completely known, there is a direct connection between sun exposure (ultraviolet radiation) and eye irritants such as dusty or windy environments, including sand, dirt or even occupational irritants such as landscaping, woodwork or welding.
It is thought these factors lead to the degradation of the collagen fibers in the conjunctiva, and through the degradation, the eye creates deposits of calcium or fat.
Pinguecula usually occur in people who have reached middle age or older, since the eyes have had more exposure to sunlight and dust particles over the years. However, the growth can grow larger over time, so it is wise to take precautionary measures, and always protect the eyes from sun and irritants to stop the growth from growing larger.
Symptoms of Pinguecula Eye Growth
If the growth is small there may be no symptoms, but because pinguecula growth is deposits of fat or calcium that have formed causing a raised bump, the film of tears that normally lubricates the eyeball doesn’t spread evenly over this raised bump, and this causes dry eye or the irritating feeling that there is something in your eye. This can also cause a burning sensation, itching or stinging, and it can make it difficult to wear contact lenses. The irritation can also cause an increase in blood vessels, which explains why your eyes have that bloodshot appearance.
Generally, pinguecula doesn’t need treatment unless it becomes inflamed into pingueculitis. Over the counter artificial tears may be used to treat the discomfort of dry eyes, and in the case of pingueculitis, corticoid eye drops may be prescribed. However, although this will reduce the inflammation, it won’t remove the growth.
Surgery to remove the pinguecula growth is only recommended in severe cases and, unfortunately, there is a high rate of recurrence after surgery.
What’s the Difference between Pinguecula and Pterygium
These two eye conditions are often grouped under the common moniker of surfer’s eye or farmer’s eye because the causes and the symptoms are the same. But, pinguecula is usually just a cosmetic issue whereas pterygium can have serious complications that can cause loss of vision if not treated properly.
A pterygium growth may start as a pinguecula, but if it grows to cover the cornea it will affect vision, and it can induce astigmatism and change the refractive power of the eye.
Treatment for Pterygium
With mild to moderate pterygia, where the patient has symptoms, artificial tear supplements and/or mild anti-inflammatory drops can be used to minimize symptoms. If a pterygium becomes very large, irritated or makes it way toward the center of the cornea, your optometrist will refer you to an ophthalmologist to surgically remove the excess tissue. Unfortunately, even with complete removal, a pterygium can come back.
Surgery for pterygium removes the growth and glues or stitches tissue from the conjunctiva or a placenta into the vacant area left by the removed growth. This procedure can take between 30 to 45 minutes. And after surgery, wearing an eye patch and using eye drops may be prescribed to help reduce inflammation and aid recovery.
If you have pinguecula or if you notice any change in the size of the pinguecula you should make an appointment with your Kelowna eye doctor immediately. Your eye doctor will be able to recommend the best course of treatment for you, and in the meantime, make sure you wear sunglasses and protect your eyes from dusty situations.