A pterygium is a benign winged-shaped growth of tissue that can expand over the cornea (the clear front window to the eye). It may remain small and not require any treatment or may grow large enough to interfere with vision. Growth usually occurs slowly, over many years, but can also have periods of rapid growth. A pterygium most commonly grows from the nasal corner of the eye.
What causes pterygium?
The exact cause is not fully understood. Pterygium is most common in people who spend lots of time outdoors or who live in sunny and arid climates. Long-term exposure to sunlight, especially ultraviolet (UV) rays, and chronic eye irritation from dry, dusty conditions are considered the primary contributing factors. Other eye irritants such as allergens and hazardous chemicals may also play a role.
How is pterygium treated?
Protecting your eyes from excessive ultraviolet light with proper sunglasses, wearing a hat and avoiding dry and dusty conditions can be the best way to reduce unwanted symptoms.
When a pterygium becomes red and irritated, eye drops or ointments may be used to reduce the inflammation.
If the pterygium becomes large enough to threaten your vision or causes significant discomfort, surgery may be necessary.
How is it surgically removed?
Surgery is minimally invasive and takes roughly 20-30 minutes. The pterygium is first carefully peeled, then a tissue graft is harvested from beneath your upper eyelid and placed over the removal site to reduce the chance of recurrence. The graft is usually secured with tissue glue and rarely needs sutures. The site where the tissue is harvested heals on its own.
What are the risks of pterygium surgery?
Pterygium surgery generally has excellent outcomes. However, despite complete surgical removal, the pterygium may return, particularly in younger people or in those under constant exposure to irritants. With current standards, recurrence occurs in less than 5 percent of cases. Even in the absence of recurrence, in an additional 5 percent of cases the site of pterygium removal remains red. Medications that slow tissue growth sometimes help.
Although rare, other risks of pterygium surgery include eye swelling, double-vision, prolonged redness and infections.
How long does it take to heal?
Healing time varies. Soreness is very common for the first week and redness may last up to 6 weeks after surgery. In general, smaller pterygiums tend to heal the fastest while larger pterygiums take longer to heal.
The importance of regular eye examinations and follow-up
A pterygium should be monitored regularly for growth so that it can be treated before affecting your vision. This way the best outcomes can be assured.