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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 3  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 38

Pterygium in Rural Andean Ecuador: Epidemiology, risk factors, and barriers to care

1 Partners for Andean Community Health, Connecticut; Department of Ophthalmology, Massachusetts Eye and Ear, Boston, Massachusetts, USA
2 Partners for Andean Community Health, Connecticut, USA
3 Department of Ophthalmology, The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Sila Bal
Massachusetts Eye and Ear, 243 Charles Street, Boston, MA
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/pajo.pajo_105_21

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Background: Pterygium is an ocular surface lesion that causes chronic eye irritation and eventually, vision impairment. Pathologically, prolonged ultraviolet (UV)-induced radiation damage leads to conjunctival and limbal stem cell damage. As such, rural, high-altitude equatorial communities are at particular risk due to proximity to the sun, outdoor work, and a lack of access to eye care. Methods: We conducted a cross-sectional study to determine the epidemiology of pterygium in the Chimborazo region of Ecuador. Adults presenting to Clinical FIBUSPAM's medical clinics for both ocular and nonocular reasons were examined by optometrists/ophthalmologists to identify pterygium. Affected patients completed a questionnaire about self-reported known risk factors, treatment, and barriers to care, and received UV-blocking sunglasses. Results: Of 296 patients, 165 (55%) had pterygium. The mean age was 60.2 years (range 19–88), 69% were female; 63% had unilateral pterygia, and 37% had bilateral pterygia. Symptoms occurring daily included severe photophobia (36%), foreign body sensation (28%), eye pain (24%), burning (31%), and itching (28%). In addition, 40% reported concern about eye appearance. Risk factors included spending >5 h outdoors each day working (93%), smoking (8%), and alcohol (14%). For prophylaxis, while 91% routinely wore hats outdoors, only 16% used sunglasses. For treatment, 30% used eye drops, of which two-thirds were natural remedies. About 93% wanted treatment (medications or surgical removal), 78% were concerned about access to treatment, and 43% reported cost as the major concern. Conclusions: Pterygium is highly prevalent (55%) among adults presenting for care in community health clinics in the Chimborazo Province of Ecuador. This treatable and potentially preventable cause of ocular irritation and vision loss greatly impacts the quality of life in this region. This and similar communities would benefit from improved education and outreach through care delivery models that bring affordable prevention and eye care services closer to home.

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