All about Pterygium


Pterygium is a white or pinkish fleshy growth that develops across the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eyeball). This condition often affects people who spend a lot of time outside in the sun, or who have lived in hot and dusty climates.

What causes pterygium?

Pterygium usually develops between the ages of 20 and 40, and is more common in women. Risk factors include prolongued exposure to excessive sunlight or irritants, such as dust and pollen. The condition is also associated with dry eye disease.


What symptoms should I look out for?

Many patients with pterygium are asymptomatic, but if it starts growing you may notice redness and inflammation, most commonly on the nasal side of your cornea. It can cause discomfort and can even interfere with vision by distorting the cornea and causing 'astigmatism'. In severe cases, the pterygium can grow over the cornea and cover the pupil. Common symptoms include burning, grittiness, itching, foreign body sensation and blurred vision.


How is pterygium treated?

In the UK, most cases are slow growing and do not need to be surgically removed (except for cosmetic reasons), but it may be necessary to use specially prescribed eyedrops if it becomes inflammed.

If a pterigium is causing persistent discomfort or interferes with vision it can be surgically removed under local or general anaesthetic. The surgery involves using a graft from the patient's own conjunctiva (the clear tissue covering the white of the eye) to fill the space created by removal of the pterygium, and this also acts as a barrier against regrowth. 

Surgery typically takes around 45 minutes and most people can go home the same day.


What else can I do?

Protecting your eyes from over-exposure to UV light and ocular irritants by wearing wrap-around sunglasses may reduce the risk of a pterygium forming, and a hat with a wide brim can also be helpful. If you suffer from dry eyes, using ocular lubricants regularly may also reduce the risk of this condition developing.