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Eye Growths: Pinguecula and Pterygium

Have you been told that you have a pinguecula or a pterygium? These are two very common growths we see on the eye.

Pinguecula

A pinguecula is a tiny yellowish, slightly raised growth found on the white part of the eye just on the border of the coloured part. They are often found in middle aged or older people who spend a lot of time in the sun, but they can also be found in younger people including children who are often outdoors without sunglasses or hats.

In most cases a pinguecula will not cause any problems. However, if they are irritated, it will cause a scratchy itchy feeling in the eye. They may become inflamed and red with exposure to the sun, dust, wind and very dry conditions.

Treatment of a Pinguecula

For mild cases the best form of treatment is protective eyewear whenever you are exposed to the sun. A good pair of wrap-around sunglasses will usually do the trick. Moisture drops can help with the redness and scratchy feeling caused by a pinguecula. Always consult your eye doctor before using an over the counter eye drop.

Surgery is normally recommended when the pinguecula is greatly inflamed and affects your vision or blinking.

Pterygium

A pterygium is a triangular or wedged shaped growth on the white part of the eye. In some cases a pterygium can grow over the cornea and affect your vision. A pterygium is caused by long term exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.

Just like a pinguecula, a pterygium is normally harmless. It may become red and inflamed on occasion and sometimes they become thick and swollen. This may cause a slight discomfort and become cosmetically unappealing.

In cases where the pterigium becomes very large, it grows onto the cornea and can cause astigmatism.

Treatment of a Pterygium

Lubricating eye drops work well to relieve any redness or discomfort. Consult your eye doctor before using any over the counter eye drop.

Surgery is recommended in cases where the pterygium is growing over the cornea and affecting vision. Unfortunately, a pterygium may re-grow after surgical removal and the re-growth is sometimes worse than the initial growth.

Again, a good pair of wrap-around sunglasses can protect your eyes from all angles.

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    Eye Growths: Stye and Chalazion

    A stye is a little growth that looks like a pimple on the eyelid. It can be either on the outer or inner eyelid. It can occur at any age and is normally not serious and does not affect vision.

    Signs that you are developing a stye

    You may notice slight pain, redness, swelling and sensitivity on the affected eyelid. After a day or two, a pimple develops.

    You may also get slight watering of the eye, sensitivity to light and a scratchy feeling in the eye.

    What Causes a Stye?

    A stye is caused by staphylococcal bacteria which is present in the nose. This bacteria is easily transferred when you touch your nose and then your eye.

    Everyone has this stye causing bacteria in their body, so we all have the potential of developing a stye. If you do have a stye, you can pass this bacteria onto another person, causing them to develop a stye. So always wash your hands and maintain good hygiene.

    Treating a Stye

    Most styes heal by themselves within a few days to a week. Applying warm compressions to the eye for 10-15 minutes about 4 times a day, normally speeds up recovery. This will relieve any pain and discomfort. The stye will eventually rupture, drain and heal.

    Never pop a stye like a pimple. This normally makes the condition worse. If you continue to develop styes, your ophthalmologist can prescribe an antibiotic to prevent recurrence.

    Chalazion

    A chalazion is an enlarged blocked oil gland underneath the top or bottom eyelid. At first it may resemble a stye and then becomes a painless hard round bump. The contents of the chalazion are pus and fatty deposits that normally help lubricate the eye.

    Treatment of a Chalazion

    Most chalazia drain on their own with the help of warm compressions and lid massages.

    Occasionally they become larger and may be persist for weeks and even months and become cosmetically unappealing. In this case an ophthalmologist can surgically remove it with a simple in office procedure.

    In cases where a chalazion continues to grow in the same area or has a suspicious appearance, a sample will be taken for lab analysis and determine if it is cancerous.

    Fortunately most chalazia are harmless.

    If you notice any unusual growths in and around the eye area, always consult your optometrist or ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

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      Eye Floaters

      Eye floaters are those tiny cobweb like spots that float around in our field of vision. In most cases they are harmless and are no need for concern.

      When we are born, the vitreous (jelly-like fluid at the back of the eye), has a gel-like consistency. As we get older, this gel starts to dissolve and becomes more liquid. Some undissolved gel-like particles float around in the more watery centre. They may be many shapes and sizes and this is what we refer to as floaters.

      These floaters are more noticeable when looking at a white wall or computer screen or at the bright sky. What we are seeing is actually shadows of the floaters reflecting on the retina. Also, they never stay still. They are always moving as your eye moves.

      When are Floaters an Emergency?

      If you notice a shower of floaters and spots accompanied with flashes of light, you should seek medical attention immediately. This means that the vitreous is pulling away from the retina causing a retinal tear, which could lead to a retinal detachment. Retinal detachments can lead to severe permanent loss of vision. An ophthalmologist needs to be consulted immediately to reattach the retina and prevent blindness.

      Light Flashes

      When the vitreous pulls against the retina, it causes flashes of light. These flashes may be short lived or continue until the retina is repaired. Sometimes, flashes are also caused after a blow to the head. Some people notice flashes where the light is wavy or jagged, which continues for 20-30 minutes. This is caused by spasm of the blood vessels in the brain. If this is accompanied by a headache, it is a migraine headache. If it is not accompanied by a headache it is called an ophthalmic migraine.

      Treatment for Floaters

      Most floaters are not serious and require no treatment. They will fade over time and become less bothersome. Eye specialists will only consider removing them if they are so many that they disturb your vision. This is done by a procedure called a vitrectomy. The vitreous gel is totally removed from the eye together with the floaters. The gel is usually replaced with saline.

      Remember, the sudden appearance of a significant number of floaters accompanied by flashes of light could indicate a retinal detachment and is a medical emergency which requires immediate treatment.

      If you suddenly see floaters, visit your optometrist or ophthalmologist immediately.

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        Age and Night Vision Driving

        Decreased night vision can be a serious traffic hazard, especially among older motorists who drive after dark.

        Unfortunately, the grading of vision screening for driver’s license renewals in our license departments means that large numbers of drivers in this age group may not be seeing their optometrist or ophthalmologist frequently enough to ensure their vision is adequate for safe driving.

        A bigger problem is that age-related eye problems, such as cataracts, can develop so slowly that older drivers may be unaware that their vision is declining.

        Road Traffic Accidents and Older Drivers

        Research has shown that although younger drivers are more likely to cause serious motor vehicle accidents resulting in death, older car drivers are a public health issue, because of age-related declines in vision, cognition and motor function. This makes them more susceptible to car crashes in complex situations that require good visual perception, attention and rapid response.

        A typical car driver makes about 20 decisions every kilometre and has less than half a second to react fast enough to avoid an accident. Age affects the 3 essential steps involved in that reaction process: sensing, deciding and acting.

        Also, traffic deaths are 3-times more likely to occur at night than during the day.

        Why is Ageing and Night Driving a Problem?

        As we age, our eyes usually begin to fail long before we notice it.

        • Pupils shrink and don’t dilate as much in the dark as we age. This reduces the amount of light entering the eye. The retina receives far less light. This can make older drivers function as though they are wearing sunglasses a night.
        • The cornea and lens in the eye become less clear with age, causing light to scatter inside the eye, which increases glare. This makes it harder to see objects on the roads at night.
        • An older person may test well in the optometrist’s office but still struggle to focus on the road at night, where lighting is poor and more complex vision tasks are required.

        • Older eyes have a higher risk of developing eye diseases like age-related macular degeneration, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy and cataracts.

        These eyesight problems, together or in isolation, may cause a gradual decline in vision and so a driver doesn’t realize that he has become visually impaired.

        Despite these many reasons for concern, many older individuals ignore the need for regular eye exams. Taking responsibility for your eyes by having regular eye examinations is the best way to ensure you have the visual abilities needed for safe driving as you get older.

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