What Are Pterygia and Chalazia?
A pterygium is a pinkish, triangular-shaped tissue growth on the cornea. Some pterygia grow slowly throughout a persons life, while others stop growing after a certain point. A pterygium rarely grows so large that it begins to cover the pupil of the eye.
Pterygium usually has no symptoms, and many do not require treatment. However, some pterygium become red and inflamed from time to time. Large or thick pterygium may be more irritating than painful. Occasionally, large pterygium will begin to change the shape of the cornea and cause vision changes (astigmatism).
Pterygia are more common in sunny climates and in the 20-40 age group. Scientists do not know what causes pterygia to develop. However, since people who have pterygia usually have spent significant time outdoors, many doctors believe ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun may be a factor. In areas where sunlight is strong, wearing protective eyeglasses, sunglasses, and/or hats with brims is suggested. While some studies report a higher prevalence of pterygia in men than in women, this may reflect different rates of exposure to UV light.
Because a pterygium is visible, many people want to have it removed for cosmetic reasons. It is usually not too noticeable unless it becomes red and swollen from dust or air pollutants. Surgery to remove a pterygium is not recommended unless it affects vision. If a pterygium is surgically removed, it may grow back, particularly if the patient is less than 40 years of age. Lubricants can reduce the redness and provide relief from the chronic irritation.
The eye is surrounded by small oil-producing glands that help lubricate it. Occasionally, the gland becomes plugged, and a hard and sometimes a painful lump called a chalazion (ch lae zee on) forms.
The pimple-like chalazion is a small annoyance that can become a big problem. What starts out as a small annoying lump can become infected and cause great discomfort. The eye may become red, swollen and sensitive to light. In the worst cases, it can even affect eyesight, causing blurry vision. This is due to pressure placed on the eye from the inflammation (swelling) of the eyelid and the growing chalazion.
Luckily, most chalazion stay small and are just a minor annoyance. They can be treated at home with warm compresses and gentle massaging of the affected area to loosen the plugged oil glands. They often resolve on their own within a few weeks. Chalazion that are a greater nuisance or become infected can be treated with antibiotics and other medications.
In the worst cases, the chalazion can be surgically drained and/or removed in the doctors office. If the chalazion returns or if you have had them over a long period of time, your doctor may send the removed chalazion to a laboratory to be tested.