What Is Pterygium?

A pterygium (pronounced tur-ij-ee-um) is an eye condition in which a triangular-shaped white or yellowish growth in the fleshy white tissue of the eye. Occasionally, a pterygium will grow to extend over the cornea, may become red and swollen, or even thick to the point you feel like you have something in your eye. While a pterygium is non-cancerous, it can grow large enough to actually interfere with vision, causing blurred vision or even astigmatism.

Symptoms of a pterygium

Some people may never experience symptoms after a pterygium growth appears,
while others may experience a number of symptoms. Possible symptoms include:

  • Redness and inflammation
  • Blurred vision
  • Itching, burning or gritty feeling in the eye
  • Feeling as though there is foreign matter in the eye

Diagnosis and treatment

Your ophthalmologist can diagnose a pterygium with an examination using a slit-lamp, which allows your eye doctor to examine your cornea, iris, lens, and the space between the iris and cornea. Through this exam, your doctor will be able to see any abnormalities or growths on your eye.

Unless symptoms are severe, pterygium may not require treatment. Lubricating eye drops, ointment or even a steroid eye drop may be used to treat redness and irritation caused by a pterygium.

Growths may also be surgically removed if they become large enough to interfere with vision or cause continual discomfort. Some patients will choose to have them removed for cosmetic reasons.

Pterygium removal may cause astigmatism in some patients, as it creates an uneven curvature of the eye. About 20 to 30 percent of pterygia grow back, but regular eye examinations will help monitor possible regrowth.

While it isn’t entirely certain what causes pterygia, it is thought that they may be caused by exposure to UV radiation, dryness, dust or other foreign matter in the eye. If you have a pterygium removed, protect your eyes from UV light and dusty conditions with proper eyewear and regularly apply lubricating eye drops or artificial tears to your eyes to help prevent recurrence.

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