PTERYGIUM (Tur-IJ-ee-um )
When we look in the mirror, the first portion of our eye that usually grabs our attention is the white part that has a black circle on it. That white part is called the sclera. The sclera extends as a transparent surface called the cornea to the central front portion of the eye in front of the black circle. The sclera is covered by a thin semi transparent membrane called the conjunctiva.
The conjunctiva serves as an extra protective barrier for the eye by preventing the entrance of microbes into the eye. It is this membrane that gets inflamed when there is an irritation or infection to the eye such that the eye turns red (conjunctivitis), what is commonly called apollo.
Conjunctival irritation can occur for a number of reasons but here in the tropics it is predominantly due to overexposure to sunlight (UV radiation), dust, wind and smoke. This results in two predominant conditions namely: Pterygium (pronounced tur-IJ-ee-um) and pinguecula (pronounced pin- GWEK-yoo-la). Both are benign growths (non cancerous) found on the conjunctiva surface.
A Pterygium is a thin fleshy triangular growth on the conjunctiva that may grow and extend over the surface of the cornea. In some cases, the growth may remain small and not cause any discomfort to the eye. However, it commonly will grow and encroach on the cornea surface. When this happens, patients begin to experience a myriad of symptoms ranging from blurry vision, usually because of corneal distortion due to the Pterygium on it, to itching, redness, feeling of sand in the eye, etc.
A Pterygium poses no health risk to the individual , however occasionally it may become inflamed i.e appearing red swollen and itchy. In such a situation, the individual should see an optometrist. Anti-inflammatory drops may be given for patient comfort. However, in a situation where patients are bothered by the cosmetic appearance of the Pterygium or when the Pterygium is vision threatening (by growing into the corneal surface) the Pterygium will need to be removed.
Pterygium removal involves a very simple surgery, where the Pterygium is scraped off by an ophthalmologist. Cases of recurrence of Pterygium after removal are common, hence patients are advised to seek surgery only on the grounds of the Pterygium interfering with vision.
The best way to avoid the appearance of this growth is by protecting the eyes from sunlight (using sunglasses or wide brimmed-hats), dust and smoke (using protective eye wear). These shield the eye from the harmful UV rays of the sun and also the dry and dusty winds common in Nigeria during the harmattan period.