A pterygium is a non-cancerous, slightly raised growth on your conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin, transparent membrane that covers the white of your eye (sclera) and the inner surface of your eyelids.
The conjunctiva protects and lubricates your eye by producing tears and mucus. A pterygium can look unsightly and cause uncomfortable symptoms like eye irritation. If it spreads to your cornea, it can distort your vision.
Keep reading to learn more about pterygium and how to treat them.
The cause of pterygium is thought to be excessive exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Several risk factors can contribute to the condition. They include:
- Dry eyes
- Spending time out in the sun without proper protection from the sun’s UV rays
- Too much exposure to environmental irritants like smoke, pollen, wind, dust, and sand
You can minimize your risk of developing a pterygium by following these tips:
Wearing polarized sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat can reduce your chances of developing a pterygium. Both protect your eyes from the sun’s harmful UV rays, dust, and wind.
If your eyes feel dry or irritated, use over-the-counter artificial tears. Lubricating your eyes reduces eye inflammation and irritation, which can prevent pterygium formation.
A healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is great for keeping your eyes healthy. Keeping your eyes healthy can go a long way toward preventing pterygium.
Also called “surfer’s eye,” a pterygium can affect one or both eyes. They are often shaped like a triangle and may be red, pink, or white in color.
Many people don’t experience any symptoms apart from a slightly raised growth on the eye, especially if it’s a small growth. Others have mild to severe symptoms that may include:
- Dry eyes
- Eye irritation
- Teary or watery eyes
- Itchy or burning eyes
- A sandy or gritty feeling
- Blurred vision if the growth starts to cover your cornea
- Although rare, restricted eye movement
Most patients with pterygium won’t require treatment if it’s not causing symptoms. But if symptoms develop, your ophthalmologist may suggest the following:
- Over-the-counter artificial tears or lubricating eye drops, ointments, or gels to help with dryness, irritation, redness, and discomfort
- Prescription eye drops, ointments, or gels if over-the-counter products don’t work
A pterygium doesn’t go away on its own. Surgery is the only way to remove the growth. Your eye doctor may recommend surgery to remove your pterygium if:
- There’s a risk of corneal scarring
- You’re unable to move your eye normally
- The growth is becoming larger or causing vision problems
- The pterygium has distorted the shape of your cornea, causing a condition known as astigmatism
- Over-the-counter products and prescription medications don’t reduce severe eye irritation and other uncomfortable symptoms
- You don’t like how the pterygium looks
Pterygium excision is an outpatient procedure usually performed under local or topical anesthesia. You may also receive a mild sedative to help you relax during the procedure.
Next, your surgeon will lift and cut the pterygium from your eye. Then, a tiny piece of conjunctival tissue is removed from under your eyelid and placed where the pterygium was removed.
Filling the space with healthy conjunctival tissue decreases the risk of pterygium recurrence. However, the pterygium may still recur and grow back.
Finally, a contact lens bandage is placed over your eye. The same-day procedure takes approximately 30 to 45 minutes.
If you have pterygium in both eyes, you’ll have the procedures performed separately. You’ll have the first one, and then the second one will be 4 to 6 weeks later to allow time for healing. It also reduces the risk of complications and infection.
Once you’ve had pterygium excision surgery, you can return home. However, you won’t be allowed to drive yourself home, so ensure you have a friend or family member to take you.
You’ll need to wear an eye shield at night for up to a week following your procedure. The eye shield will prevent you from poking or scratching your eye while sleeping.
Depending on your recovery rate, you may need to take a week off from work to rest your eyes to recover. During this time, it’s necessary to apply steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation and take prescription eye drops or pills to relieve discomfort or pain.
Follow-up appointments will be required to ensure your eye is healing and has no complications. Avoid strenuous activities for a week or until you’re cleared by your eye doctor, including swimming in any bodies of water.
Most patients find that healing takes about a month if there are no complications. Because the possibility of pterygium recurrence is high, your eye doctor will closely monitor your eyes for a year following the procedure.
Some of the benefits of pterygium removal include the following:
- Improvements to your vision
- Treating inflammation and irritation
- Prevention of further damage to your eye
- Enhancing the appearance of your eye
Even after pterygium removal, recurrence is still common. Recurrent pterygia usually grow faster than original pterygia.
For some people, the growth causes worse symptoms than the initial pterygium. For this reason, eye doctors don’t recommend removing a pterygium unless necessary.
The expert ophthalmologists at Evergreen Eye Center have many years of experience diagnosing and treating pterygium. Our team can reduce the chances of a pterygium regrowing using cutting-edge technology and the latest surgical methods.
Do you suspect you have a pterygium, or are you bothered by its appearance? Schedule your appointment today at Evergreen Eye Center to learn more about how we can help.