What is a pterygium?
A pterygium is a fleshy growth or scar on the surface of the eye that invades the cornea (the clear front window of the eye). It is a process in which the conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the white of the eye) grows into the cornea. A pterygium may be small, or grow large enough to interfere with vision, and commonly occurs on the nasal side of the cornea.
What causes a pterygium?
The exact cause is not well understood. A pterygium occurs more often in people who have spent a great deal of time outdoors, especially in sunny climates. Long-term exposure to sunlight, specifically ultra-violet (UV) rays, and chronic eye irritation from dry, dusty conditions seem to be factors as well.
How is a pterygium treated?
When a pterygium becomes red and irritated, eye drops or ointments may be used to help reduce the inflammation. If the pterygium is large enough to threaten sight, is growing, or is unsightly, it can be removed surgically.
The pterygium is a scar on the very surface of the cornea. It is removed with microsurgical instruments. The procedure is done with local anesthetic; usually just anesthetic drops and sometimes anesthetic injected around the eye. The procedure is done as a day care surgery at the hospital and takes about 20 to 30 minutes.
Typically an eye patch will be worn for the first night and oral analgesics (painkillers) will be given for comfort. There will be a foreign body sensation in the eye for the next 2-3 weeks, which will gradually decrease each day. The eye will be red for about 3 weeks and this is a sign of healing. Drops will be given to use for about six weeks in a decreasing frequency. By 4-6 weeks, the operated eye will look the same as your other eye.
Despite proper surgical removal with conjunctival grafting, there is about a 5% chance the pterygium may recur. Protecting the eyes from excess ultraviolet light with proper sunglasses and avoiding dry, dusty conditions may lessen this.