A pterygium is a growth that develops on the conjunctiva or
mucous membrane that covers the white part of your eye. It’s a benign or
noncancerous growth that’s often shaped like a wedge. In some cases, a
pterygium can extend to the cornea. This is the clear part of your eye that
covers your iris and pupil. A pterygium usually doesn’t cause problems or
require treatment, but it can be removed if it interferes with your vision.
The exact cause of pterygium isn’t known. One explanation is that
too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can lead to these growths. It occurs
more often in people who live in warm climates and spend a lot of time outdoors
in sunny or windy environments. People whose eyes are exposed to certain elements
on a regular basis have a higher risk of developing this condition. These
Other risk factors include having light skin and light eyes.
Are the Symptoms?
A pterygium doesn’t always cause symptoms. When it does, the
symptoms are usually mild. Common symptoms include redness, blurred vision, and
eye irritation. You might also feel a burning sensation or itchiness. If a
pterygium grows large enough to cover your cornea, it can interfere with your
vision. Thick or larger pterygium can also cause you to feel like you have a
foreign object in your eye. You might not be able to continue wearing contact
lenses when you have a pterygium due to discomfort.
Serious Is It?
A pterygium can lead to severe scarring on your cornea, but this
is rare. Scarring on the cornea needs to be treated because it can cause vision
loss. For minor cases, treatment usually involves eye drops or ointment to
treat inflammation. In the most serious cases, treatment usually involves a
corneal transplant. In this procedure, your damaged cornea is taken out and
replaced with a donated corneal graft to restore your vision.
Is It Diagnosed?
Diagnosing a pterygium is straightforward. Your eye doctor might
be able to diagnose this condition based on a physical examination using a slit
lamp. This lamp allows your doctor to see your eye with the help of
magnification and bright lighting. If your doctor needs to do additional tests,
they might include:
- a visual acuity test, which involves reading
letters on an eye chart
- corneal topography, which is used to measure
curvature changes in your cornea
- photo documentation, which involves taking
pictures to track the growth rate of the pterygium
Is It Treated?
A pterygium usually doesn’t require any treatment unless it’s
blocking your vision or causing severe discomfort. Your eye doctor might want
to check your eyes occasionally to see if the growth is causing vision
If the pterygium is causing a lot of irritation or redness, your
doctor might prescribe eye drops or eye ointments that contain corticosteroids
to reduce inflammation.
Your doctor might recommend surgery to remove the pterygium if
eye drops or ointments don’t provide relief. Surgery is also done when a
pterygium causes a loss of vision or a condition called astigmatism, which can
result in blurry vision. You can also discuss surgical procedures with your
doctor if you want the pterygium removed for cosmetic reasons.
There are a couple of risks associated with these operations. In
some cases, a pterygium can return after being surgically removed. Your eye
might also feel dry and irritated after surgery. Your doctor can prescribe
medications to provide relief and reduce the risk of having a pterygium grow
Can I Prevent Getting a Pterygium?
If possible, avoid exposure to environmental factors that can
cause a pterygium. You can help prevent the development of a pterygium by
wearing sunglasses or a hat to shield your eyes from sunlight, wind, and dust.
Your sunglasses should also provide protection from the sun’s UV rays. If you
already have a pterygium, limiting your exposure to the following can slow its
It can also help prevent them from coming back if you’ve had any