Photo by Victor Freitas on Unsplash

My Story of Pterygium, a Chronic Eye Problem

Unknown Causes, Attempted Cures

Have you ever been tested for dry eyes?

The eye doctor inserts a thin strip of paper in each eye and leaves you to sit, eyes closed, for ten minutes. Then they return and see how wet the paper is. The wetter the paper, the better.

A test for dry eyes. Source: Innovative Eye Care

When I took the test, the doctor was surprised to find that the paper looked exactly as it had when he inserted it ten minutes prior. It was still completely dry. He appeared to briefly wonder if he’d inserted the papers incorrectly, but no. He’d done it right. I just have exceptionally dry eyes. (Strangely, whenever I visit the dentist, they comment on the abundance of saliva my mouth produces. Fun!)

Another time I volunteered for a research experiment that rated my ability to respond to things shown on a screen, but I blinked so much due to my dry eyes that the machine couldn’t record the data they needed. They kept asking me to not blink every few seconds; however, I couldn’t do it while also processing the information I saw on the screen.

I don’t recommend dry eyes. In my case, my eyeballs often sting for hours each day, and there are many nights where I have to go to bed early not because I’m tired but because my eyes hurt too much to keep open.

Partly because of my exceptionally dry eyes, I started developing a benign growth more than a decade ago—a growth, known as pterygium, that covers the iris.

A mild example of pterygium. Source: Creative Commons

Searching for Solutions

In the time that I’ve had pterygium I’ve seen half a dozen eye doctors, and none have been much help. One of the first ones I visited told me that I got pterygium because I went four-wheeling so much. (I’ve never been four-wheeling.)

Almost without exception, they all say the same thing. No one knows for sure what causes pterygium, but it could be because I didn’t wear sunglasses as a teen. (I did spend a fair amount of time mowing lawns around my neighborhood without using eye protection.)

They also say that no one knows how to cure it.

One doctor, the most knowledgable of those I visited, prescribed a steroid eye drop. (It didn’t help.) He then inserted plugs into my tear ducts so my tears wouldn’t drain away as quickly. (It didn’t help.) He also prescribed a trial compound formula lifted from one of the many research papers I read about the topic. (It also didn’t help.)

Left with few other options, he surgically removed the pterygium in the eye that had the most growth. To this day, more than five years after, I have mixed feelings about that choice. The stinging in both of my eyes is still present, and the growth has started to come back and is looking like it will eventually be worse than it was before the surgery. (This is a somewhat common result.) In addition, the surgery caused my eyelid to droop slightly, which isn’t fantastic.

I’ve also tried more than a dozen different eye drops, and none of them seem to help. In fact, most seem to make the problem worse 30 minutes after I use them.

If there is anything that has helped, it is eliminating all blue light from all screens I look at. Whenever I get a new digital device, I immediately switch all the settings to permanently be in night mode. When I started doing this, my eyes stung noticeably less than they did before.

In addition, I notice a marginal difference when I avoid salty fried foods and instead eat healthier stuff (dark greens, berries, salmon, flax seeds, etc.).

Why Am I Sharing This?

This is a post I’ve been sitting on for half a decade. I’ve hesitated to share anything about it because I’m embarrassed. “The eyes are the window to the soul,” goes the saying. And my soul’s windows are bloodshot. My dry eyes and pterygium decrease my desire to make eye contact with other people. I don’t like calling attention to it.

But I don’t know what else to do. So I’m sending this out in the hope that someone who has a viable solution will eventually see this post and respond in the comments with an idea that alleviates the problem.

I’m also sending this out as a voice of empathy for those who have chronic health conditions—many vastly more aggravating than mine. I don’t wish a chronic problem on anyone, and I know that my ever-stinging eyes sometimes lead me to be grumpier than I’d like to be, which is something I’m working (and too often failing) to improve.

How often, I wonder, are the failings I perceive in others tied to something that’s not optimal in their body, something that modern medicine, despite all its wonders, still hasn’t figured out a way to cure? How much more important then, I try to remind myself, is compassion for self and others?

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Co-founder of UpliftKids.org, a program that pulls from ancient wisdom and modern science to help parents build values in the home.

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Jon Ogden

Jon Ogden

Co-founder of UpliftKids.org, a program that pulls from ancient wisdom and modern science to help parents build values in the home.

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