What is a Pterygium?

A Pterygium is a fleshy overgrowth of conjunctiva that extends over the cornea. It is often pink, fleshy and triangular-shaped. In most cases, a Pterygium grows from the inner corner of the eye. It may sometimes grow from the outer corner or on both sides of the eye at the same time. One or both eyes may be affected. The growth is benign, but if untreated, a Pterygium may grow across the cornea, affecting vision.

What is the difference between a Pterygium and a Pinguecula?

A Pterygium and Pinguecula are both benign growths on the whites of the eye (conjunctiva).

A Pinguecula is a yellowish, raised growth on the conjunctiva. It usually occurs on the side of the nose, but can also appear on the other side. A Pterygium , however, is a fleshy overgrowth of the conjunctiva that extends onto the cornea. It can remain small, or may grow large enough to cover part of the cornea. When this happens, your vision can be affected.

Symptoms of a Pterygium

A Pterygium is usually painless, although it may cause irritation to the eye at any stage. If symptoms do occur, they may include:

  • A sensation of a foreign body in the eye
  • Redness in the whites of the eye on the side of the Pterygium
  • Dry, Uncomfortable eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Burning or Stinging sensation
  • Blurred vision if the Pterygium grows across the cornea

What causes a Pterygium to develop?

Pterygia are more common in people who have had years of exposure to sun, wind and dust. Therefore they are more commonly found in people living in hot, dry climates or those who spend a lot of time outdoors. Pterygia are known the to be associated with the following risk factors:

  • Sunlight exposure, due to excessive exposure to UV radiation.
  • Long term exposure to dry, windy, or dusty environments.

Treatment

No treatment is needed if the Pterygium or Pinguecula causes no symptoms and does not bother you. If a Pinguecula or Pterygium becomes red and inflamed, steroids drops can relieve it temporarily.

However, if your eyes are constantly red, uncomfortable or irritated; or if the Pterygium is large enough to cause vision problems, surgical intervention is usually required. It is preferable to remove a Pterygium before it grows across the cornea as it may scar the cornea and cause permanent vjsion problems. A Pterygium may also be removed for cosmetic reasons.

Some patients may also seek surgical removal as they are conscious of the appearance of these growths on the eye.

Pterygium surgery

Pterygium surgery involves peeling off the growth from the eye and transplanting a thin piece of healthy, normal conjunctival tissue onto the affected area using tissue glue. This technique reduces the chance that your Pterygium will grow back.

If you’ve had a Pterygium or Pinguecula removed before, the best way of preventing them from coming back is to:

  • Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from UV rays
  • Protect your eyes from dusty environments by wearing goggles or glasses
  • Using artificial tears when your eyes are dry