What is pterygium

Pterygium (say: tair-idj-ee-um) is an abnormal growth of tissue over the white part of the eye usually starting from the inner corner and extending towards the middle. These growths can develop in one or both eyes.

While genetics play a role, the exact cause of pterygium is unknown. It is, however, more common in people who spend a lot of time outdoors in bright sunlight or strong wind. For this reason is it sometimes called ‘surfers eye’.

The condition involves a deterioration of collagen on the eye surface and then the growth of other kinds of tissues in its place. The condition can be progressive and, while be unobtrusive at first, a pterygium can become painful and large enough to interfere with vision.

As advanced cases are highly noticeable and distinctive, pterygium is among the earliest eye conditions recorded in history.

pterygium diagram

How common is pterygium

Minor pterygium is not unusual. Overall, the condition occurs most in people aged between 20 and 40. Men account for two-thirds of cases.

There is also a much higher incidence in tropical areas, possibly due to stronger sunlight there.

What are the symptoms

Pterygium’s main sign is a visible area of raised pink or red tissue that has grown over the white of the eye. It will have visible blood vessels. Other symptoms include:

  • discomfort
  • redness and swelling of the eye
  • a burning sensation
  • watering eyes
  • feeling like something is in your eye.
pterygium symptoms

Treatment options for pterygium

Whether pterygium even needs treatment all depends on the size, discomfort and disfigurement it presents.

Mild cases may only require monitoring. Other cases can be addressed by eye drops that reduce the inflammation.

In severe cases, laser treatment and surgery is used. This is usually successful, but recurrence is frequent and the pterygium can regrow in as little as 12 months.

For prevention and post-treatment care, protecting the eyes from UV light and drying out is recommended.

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