What is the pterygium?

A pterygium is a benign growth on the eye that protrudes from the conjunctiva and slowly spreads to the cornea. Some patients do not experience problems with these growths, because they grow slowly and remain confined to the sclera or white of the eye, while other patients experience obscured vision when a pterygium grows on the cornea. Pinguecula is another example of a benign eye growth that tends to occur under circumstances similar to those that contribute to the formation of a pterygium.

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

While the name sounds exotic, a pterygium is actually not very rare. These growths appear when the eyes are stressed from UV radiation exposure and when people live in dry, dusty areas. Patients can reduce the risk of developing pterygium 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 wide-brimmed hat is also recommended, and a hat can also reduce sun damage to the scalp and face.

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

A pterygium is not the only thing that can happen to eyes that are damaged by UV radiation. People with light-colored eyes are prone to developing vision problems if they are routinely exposed to bright light, and people with darker eyes are still at risk for vision problems and problems such as skin cancer caused by exposure to sunlight. Sun protection will help preserve the eyes and the rest of the body so that they last a lifetime.

Go up