A pterygium is a growth that forms on the eye's surface and can cause vision problems if left untreated. This article will shed light on all you need to know about pterygium, including its causes, symptoms, and treatment options. You'll also learn about some preventative measures you can take to help reduce your risk of developing this condition. So if you're wondering what a pterygium is and whether or not you might be at risk, keep reading!
What is a pterygium?
Pterygium is an "athlete's pink eye". It's a fleshy growth of tissue on the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the clear tissue that covers the white part of your eyeball and lines the inside of your eyelids. Pterygium isn't cancer, but it can grow large enough to cover part of the cornea — the clear, round dome at the front of your eye. Usually, pterygium doesn't cause symptoms. But it can be painful if it grows onto the cornea and irritates it.
Pterygium is more common in men and people who spend much time outdoors in sunny, windy weather — especially near beaches and deserts. It's thought to be due to exposure to ultraviolet light, dry eyes, or irritants like dust and wind. The exact cause is unknown, but sun exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays might play a role. In most cases, pterygium doesn't need to be treated unless it's causing symptoms or growing onto the cornea.
Signs and symptoms
Pterygiums are usually benign, which means they are not cancerous. However, they can cause symptoms such as burning, gritty sensation, itching, and redness. In addition, pterygiums can distort the shape of the cornea and interfere with vision. An ophthalmologist usually diagnoses pterygium during a routine eye examination. The doctor will look for the expected growth on the eye's surface.
If you have a pterygium, treatments include ointments, wetting drops, and Eyedrops that clear up redness and irritation. For a more severe case of pterygium, your doctor may suggest steroid injections or surgery remove the tissue.
Some people choose not to have treatment because the pterygium doesn't bother them. But if you have symptoms, treatment can help relieve them. Surgery is the most common treatment for pterygium. The goal of surgery is to remove the pterygium without damaging the eye.
There are two main types of surgery for pterygium: conjunctival autograft and superficial keratectomy.
Conjunctival autograft is the more common type of surgery. It involves removing the pterygium and a small piece of tissue from the conjunctiva (the transparent membrane covering the eye's white part). The piece of tissue is used to replace the removed pterygium.
Superficial keratectomy involves removing the pterygium and a skinny layer of the cornea (the transparent outer layer of the eye). A graft is not needed because there is no damage to the conjunctiva. Surgery for pterygium is usually successful in improving vision and symptoms. However, there is a small risk of recurrence after surgery.
There are a few things that you can do to prevent a pterygium from developing or becoming worse. First, avoid excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. This means wearing sunglasses or hats when outdoors and avoiding tanning beds. Second, keep your eyes healthy- moistened. This can be done by using artificial tears or ointments. Finally, do not rub your eyes vigorously, as this irritates the conjunctiva and makes pterygium more likely to develop. If you take these precautions, you will be much less likely to develop pterygium or experience any problems.
Sarkar, P., & Tripathy, K. (2022, February 21). Pterygium. Nih.gov; StatPearls Publishing. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK558907/
Shahraki, T., Arabi, A., & Feizi, S. (2021). Pterygium: an update on pathophysiology, clinical features, and management. Therapeutic Advances in Ophthalmology, 13, 251584142110201. https://doi.org/10.1177/25158414211020152
Boyd, Kierstan. “What Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 22 Nov. 2021, https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pinguecula-pterygium.