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What are the Different Types of Surgery for Pterygium?

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  • Written By: Amanda Barnhart
  • Edited By: Allegra J. Lingo
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2016
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A pterygium is a growth on the outside of the eye that can expand over the cornea, obstructing vision and light transmission to the eye. Some cases can be effectively treated with eyedrops to reduce swelling and keep the eye moist. Pterygium often does not encroach on the cornea, making it harmless, but in some cases surgery for pterygium removal is necessary. Traditional surgery for pterygium involves either leaving the eye bare where the growth was removed or stitching other eye tissue over the excision site. Another type of surgery involves gluing a protective membrane over the surgery site.

Surgery for pterygium is usually performed on an outpatient basis with a local anesthetic in the eye. Occasionally, the surgeon will place the patient under general anesthesia. Using small surgical tools, the surgeon removes the growth from the outside of the eye. In a bare sclera surgery, the surgeon leaves the eye as it is after removing the pterygium. This type of surgery is the least common because many patients experience a regrowth of the pterygium, which is often larger than the first occurrence.

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Most traditional surgeries involve the surgeon taking a small portion of tissue from under the patient's eyelid to graft over the area where the pterygium was removed. This type of surgery for pterygium reduces the risk that the problem will reoccur. Since the space is filled in, there is less room for an abnormal growth to appear. The tissue is held in place with small stitches that can create pain or discomfort for several weeks until they dissolve or the surgeon removes them after the area has healed.

The most desirable method of surgery for pterygium involves gluing tissue over the surgical area. This relieves much of the pain associated with stitches and also reduces the risk of complications during surgery because it is easier for the surgeon to glue the tissue to the eye rather than stitch it. Healing time is often reduced because the tissue bonds quickly with the eye, protecting it and preventing regrowth of the pterygium.

Tissue adhesive used in pterygium surgery is made from parts of human blood to help it clot. The clotting proteins in the adhesive bond the protective coating to the eye almost immediately, making it faster and easier for the surgeon to attach the tissue after cutting the pterygium away. There are minimal side effects associated with this procedure, and the most common is a slight redness to the eye, which typically subsides within a few weeks.

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