Pottery and Pinguecula

by - October 13, 2014

About two months ago I tried my hand at the pottery wheel after not working with clay for nearly eight months. The next week my eye flared up. After a busy summer and fall at the wheel in 2013, my eye had given me trouble but had cleared up when I quit working with clay. Steroid eye drops helped during that season, but the flare-ups only went away after extended time away from the wheel. After having it flare up again at the end of this summer, I'm convinced the clay dust was causing the irritation. Not only that, I had a recurring sore throat, my left wrist lost all strength, and neck and shoulder pain frequently woke me up at night. I was happy to take a break.

paige puckett pottery
This summer I only played for a few days, but it was enough to set off the pinguecula. The bump in the picture wasn't as bad as it got. Six weeks later, I went to the eye doctor because the whole inside half the eye was red, and my vision was blurred. My doctor had actually just been reading up on dust, silicosis and pinguecula. Due to her pregnancy, she decided to stepped back from some home renovation work with bricks and mortar. The pinguecula is in both eyes and isn't ever going away (and I've had it for years now), but avoiding irritants can help make it barely visible. We both agreed I'd have to only do clay as an occasional hobby or go full-on face hazmat protection.

So what is pinguecula? I'm happy to answer that for you.

"A pinguecula is a common, non-cancerous growth of the clear, thin tissue (conjunctiva). The growth is raised slightly from the surface of the white part of the eye (sclera). The exact cause is unknown. Long-term sunlight exposure and eye irritation may be factors."

Considering how much time I spend gardening, how much dirt I've flipped up in my face accidentally, how much time I've spent around clay dust, and that I spent a couple years doing graduate work outdoors in sun and winter wind, it's no surprise my eyes have experienced their share of sun and irritants.

In November I'm headed back to Pullen Arts Center to take a Continuing Wheel class, and am a little nervous. It runs one night a week for six weeks, and I'll go armed with eye drops and probably some safety glasses. As much as I want to wear a mask to protect my lungs and throat, I may only wear one while glazing and working with greenware. Pullen does a good job of keeping the floors clean, much better than I do in my own garage studio. For those who have wondered what happened to my pottery endeavors - there you have it!

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