What is a pterygium?
A pterygium is a benign raised growth of the conjunctiva (the thin membrane that overlies the white of the eye) that extends to cover the cornea (the transparent part of the eye that overlies the iris and pupil). It is a slow growing fibrovascular lesion that is usually flesh coloured and triangular in shape. It is commonly located in the inner or outer part of the eye.
What causes a pterygium?
Although the exact cause is unknown, pterygia (plural form of pterygium) are associated with excessive ultraviolet light (sun), wind, dust, and sand exposures. Certain populations are more predisposed to getting a pterygium.
Is a pterygium serious?
A pterygium is commonly asymptomatic but can be cosmetically unpleasing. Symptoms can include redness, itchiness, irritation, blurred vision, and burning sensations. A pterygium can also cause the prescription of the eye to change. If the pterygium grows over the center of the cornea, it can cause decreased vision, astigmatism, and scarring of the cornea. This can lead to permanent vision loss if not properly treated.
How to prevent a pterygium?
You can deter the growth of pterygia by taking preventative measures to avoid environmental exposure. For example, sunglasses can be worn to protect against the sun’s ultraviolet light.
How to treat a pterygium?
If a pterygium is asymptomatic and not bothersome, then no treatment is required. If the pterygium primarily causes symptoms of dryness, then artificial tears and /or anti-inflammatory drops can be used for symptomatic relief. If a pterygium is cosmetically bothersome, or if irritative symptoms persist despite using drops, then surgery can be considered.
The eye surgeon will excise the pterygium and transplant a thin piece of normal conjunctiva onto the affected area to reduce the chance of pterygium recurrence. Pterygium surgery is an awake outpatient day procedure that takes 30 minutes and is performed in a hospital or ambulatory surgical suite. Sometimes the eye is patched after surgery or a bandage contact lens is left in place for a week. It is normal for the eye to be sore in the days after surgery and for the vision to be blurry. These symptoms should slowly resolve over the first week and you will most likely take drops after surgery to prevent infection, inflammation, and recurrence of the pterygium.
Risks of pterygium surgery include bleeding, pain, infection, inflammation, scarring, and recurrence of the pterygium. Rare complications may include double vision, retinal tear and detachment, and loss of vision.
It takes around 3 months for the corneal surface to stabilize after surgery.