How Sun Time as a Kid Led to Eye Surgery

FRIDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News) — Like so many people, Debra Greene spent much of her childhood out in the sunshine.

Growing up in sunny South Carolina, she ran and played and later helped out with the family gardening. And she spent plenty of hours sunbathing, “lying in the warmth of the sun in the summertime,” she recalls.

Greene, now 48 and living in Gaithersburg, Md., didn’t know that all that time in the sun as a child would eventually result in her needing surgery for ultraviolet damage to her eye.

But about six years ago, Greene noticed that a tiny part of the inside corner of her right eye had become filmy and discolored. “There was a growth that was covering part of my eye,” she said.

It was a little unsightly, she said, but it wasn’t affecting her vision so she wasn’t overly worried about it at the time. As the years passed, the tiny spot became larger. “It was a progressive thing,” she said. “I didn’t really notice it. It was getting bigger, and it grew progressively.”

And then, about two years ago, she noticed that the spot had grown noticeably larger — large enough that others could casually notice it.

“It was visible. You could see it,” Greene said. “It looked like a clear thin film over your eyes. It didn’t really affect my vision, but it was worrisome when I saw it in the mirror. It was a problem, and I knew that I had to take care of it.”

Greene went to an ophthalmologist, who told her she had developed a pterygium, a non-cancerous growth that forms on the clear, thin tissue that covers the white part of the eye. Researchers believe that these growths are caused in part by long-term exposure to the ultraviolet rays contained in sunlight. If left alone, they eventually can grow large enough to cover the cornea and impair sight.

“I did a lot of research, and I thought I knew what it was so I wasn’t worried about losing my sight anytime soon because of it,” Greene said. “But it was really unsightly.”

Her ophthalmologist referred her to an eye surgeon. Within three months, she’d undergone surgery to have the pterygium removed from her right eye.

“It was not painful at all,” Greene said. “I had to wear a patch after the initial surgery, for about one day. And then there were follow-up trips.” The eye healed perfectly, and she says you’d never know she’d once had a strange growth in that eye.

“It’s fine today,” she said. “No problem. I had it taken care of.”