November 18, 2014

A pterygium is a raised growth on the surface of the eye that usually starts with an area of redness and thickening in the inner corner of the white of the eye. Pterygia can grow further across the eye onto the cornea becoming uncomfortable as well as cosmetically noticeable. Sore, red, and gritty, especially with wind, smoke or dust relief can be sought with the use of artificial tears and decongestant eye drops.Pterygiums that extend too far across the eye causing vision problems may require removal. The procedure is done under a local anaesthetic.

What is a pterygium?

A pterygium is a raised wedge-shaped growth that occurs on the surface of the eye. It is thought to be related to increased exposure to ultra-violet (UV) light, as it is more common in people who have lived in sunny areas.

Pterygium starts as an area of redness and thickening on the conjunctiva, usually on the inner aspect of the white of the eye. In some cases, the pterygium may extend across onto the cornea, which is the clear front window of the eye. If the pterygium grows towards the middle of the cornea, it should be surgically removed.

Pterygia can cause a number of problems. They may be easily visible and cause cosmetic embarrassment. They often become sore, red, and gritty, especially with wind, smoke or dust. Eventually the pterygium may interfere with the vision either by distorting the cornea or by extending over the pupil.

How can a pterygium be treated?

The comfort of a pterygium may be improved by using eye drops such as artificial tear drops or decongestant drops. These often help with the redness of the eye as well. Some pterygia, which continue to cause problems, may require surgical removal.

Surgical procedure

In surgery, the pterygium is removed and a small piece of the conjunctiva, which is the thin transparent skin that covers the white of the eye, is placed into this site from under the upper lid.

Recently tissue glue (Tisseel) is being used in pterygium procedures as an alternative to sutures. Using Tisseel to attach the graft allows a quicker procedure and may reduce post-operative discomfort.

The surgery is performed under local anaesthetic. There should be no pain during the surgery, which takes approximately half an hour. Following the procedure, a prescription is given for eye ointment or eye drops and pain relief tablets. For approximately 1-2 weeks following surgery, getting water, dust or dirt in the eye should be avoided.

Will the pterygium grow back?

One of the main problems with the removal of a pterygium that regrowth may occur, although this happens in fewer than 1% with newer surgical techniques. To reduce the risk of recurrence, you should try to reduce exposure to ultra-violet light following surgery by wearing sunglasses or a hat when outdoors. Your surgeon may advise you not to have the surgery performed over the summer months for this reason.