Pterygium

What Is A Pterygium?

A pterygium is an abnormal, but non-harmful growth of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin membrane lining the inside of the eyelid and covering the sclera (white part of the eyeball).  Excessive growth of the conjunctiva leads to a pterygium, which appears as a fleshy patch—pink-white in color and containing blood vessels—and may extend over the top of the iris (coloured part of the eye).

If a pterygium continues to grow, it may start to grow across the pupil (black centre of the eye). A pterygium that grows large enough may eventually distort the corneal surface and blur vision or even obscure vision.

The exact cause is not well understood.  A pterygium occurs more often in people who spend a great deal of time outdoors, especially in sunny climates.  Long-term exposures to sunlight, especially ultra-violet (UV) rays, and chronic eye irritation from dry, dusty conditions seem to play a part in the development of a pterygium.  Working in occupations with excessive exposure to solvents or chemicals or having family members with pterygia have also been found to put individuals at a higher risk.

The symptoms of a pterygium vary from person-to-person. In some people, they remain small and do not affect vision. These particular pterygia are only noticed because of their abnormal cosmetic appearance. In other people, pterygia grow quickly and cause severely blurred vision. Pterygia generally do not cause significant pain.

Symptoms can include:

  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Tearing
  • Sensation of something in the eye
  • Blurred vision

If you experience any of these symptoms do not assume it is due to a pterygium. These symptoms may be caused by other eye conditions. If you experience any one of them, see your Ophthalmologist.

Sometimes a pterygium can become red and irritated.  If this occurs, topical eye drops can be used to help reduce the inflammation.  If a pterygium grows large enough and begins to encroach on the pupil (black hole in the centre of the eye) surgery may be recommended to remove it before it starts to interfere with vision.

Pterygium surgery involves the removal of abnormal tissue from the sclera and cornea.  This is followed by a conjunctival auto-graft (self-transplant) as it reduces the risk of recurrence.  With this particular technique the gap in the conjunctival tissue, from where the pterygium has been removed, is filled with transplant tissue which is painlessly taken from underneath the upper lid.  The auto-graft is held in place with dissolvable stitches.  Patients may find their eye can be quite red & sore following the procedure as well as being glare sensitive. Eye drops will be prescribed to stop infection and reduce any inflammation.  It is important to avoid dry and dusty areas during the healing period and keep all you post operative appointments. It can take 3 – 6 months for your eye to completely heal following Pterygium surgery.

Details regarding risks and complications will be provided by your treating ophthalmologist when discussing surgery and proceeding with consent.  At this time, your Brisbane Eye Clinic Ophthalmologist will be pleased to answer any queries you may have.

Despite proper surgical removal, the pterygium may return in up to 5% of cases, particularly in young people. Protecting the eyes from excessive ultraviolet light with proper sunglasses and avoiding dry, dusty conditions may also help.

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