Pterygium

What is a pterygium?

A pterygium is a wedge-shaped growth of thickened connective tissue that begins on the “white” of the eye and starts to encroach on the corneal surface. It typically starts growing on the sides closest to the nose (nasally).

A pterygium may affect both eyes.

Pterygium is not a cancer and is better defined as a localised disturbance to the surface of the eye.

 


Causes

A Pteryguim is more likely to develop in people who live in closer to the equator, work outdoors and spend a lot of time in the sun. Surfers very commonly have a pterygium or pterygia (more than one pterygium). Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun is the major risk factor in pterygium formation.

Symptoms:

Most patients have no symptoms but are aware that the eye affected may appear red. An enlarging pterygium may cause the following symptoms:

  • Redness and inflammation;
  • Foreign body sensation;
  • Excessive tearing, itching and burning;
  • Increased grittiness;
  • Blurred vision;
  • Astigmatism – the pterygium may pull on the cornea and distort its shape which can cause astigmatism; and
  • Contact lenses – a pterygium can interfere with the comfortable wearing of contact lenses.
    • Treatment & Surgery

      In cases where the pterygium is actively growing and causing symptoms surgery may be performed.

      A small incision is made in the conjunctiva (membrane covering the white of the eye) surrounding the pterygium. The pterygium will then be lifted upward clear of the cornea. To reduce the risk of recurrence a conjunctival autograft is performed. A conjunctival autograft is a relocation of a small portion of the conjunctiva (from under the upper eyelid) to the site of the excised pterygium. The healthy tissue decreases the risk of re-growth of any remaining sun-damaged cells in the affected part of the eye.

      Prevention of pterygium:

      Prevention is better than a cure. The best way to reduce the risk of pterygium is to protect the eyes from ultraviolet rays.

      Sun safety is very important and it is essential to start at a young age. Use of wide brimmed hats, wrap around sunglasses with high UV protection are all effective.