What is Pterygium?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 24 June 2019
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A pterygium is a benign growth on the eye which protrudes from the conjunctiva and slowly spreads across to the cornea. Some patients experience no problems with these growths, because they grow slowly and they stay confined to the sclera or white of the eye, while other patients experience obscured vision when a pterygium grows over the cornea. Pinguecula are another example of benign eye growth which tend to occur in circumstances similar to those which contribute to the formation of a pterygium.

When this condition develops, it usually starts on the side of the eye near the nose, as a triangular wedge. It is fed by the capillaries which supply blood to the eye and conjunctiva, and successive layers of collagen and other materials are laid down to create a wedge-like growth. The patient may see the growth in the mirror, or notice that he or she experiences regular eye irritation as though there is a foreign body in the eye, long before the growth obscures vision.


While the name sounds exotic, a pterygium is not actually very rare. These growths appear when the eyes are stressed by exposure to ultraviolet radiation, and when people live in dry, dusty areas. Patients can reduce the risk of developing pterygia and pinguecula by wearing sunglasses to protect their eyes, and applying moisturizing eye drops if they live in dry or dusty climates. Protecting the eyes with a brimmed hat is also advised, and a hat can reduce sun damage to the scalp and face as well.

If a growth is identified, a doctor may take a wait and see approach to see what happens. The growth may be manageable with steroids to reduce inflammation and lubricating drops to reduce eye irritation. In the event that the growth becomes a problem, surgery can be performed to remove it. Because the growths are prone to recurrence, a doctor may recommend follow up medication and preventative care, and the doctor may also perform a graft of tissue which is designed to discourage the recurrence of the pterygium.

A pterygium isn't the only thing that can happen to eyes which are damaged by UV radiation. People with light colored eyes are prone to the development of vision problems if they are exposed routinely to bright light, and individuals with darker eyes are still at risk for vision problems and issues like skin cancers caused by exposure to sunlight. Sun protection will help preserve the eyes and the rest of the body so that they will last for life.


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