Pterygium (pronounced “tur-RIDGE-ium”) is a benign thickening, an abnormal growth of tissue on the outer coating (conjunctiva) of the eye that grows onto the cornea. As a pterygium grows, it may become red and irritated. Eventually, it may cause visual disturbances by disrupting the normally smooth surface of the cornea. In severe cases, a pterygium can block a patient’s vision altogether.
Causes of Pterygium
UV radiation (usually from sunlight) is the most common cause of pterygium. This explains why pterygium occurs with increasing frequency in climates approaching the equator. Other causes include continuous exposure to dry, dusty environments. People who spend significant time in water sports (surfing or fishing) are particularly susceptible to pterygium because of the intense exposure to UV that occurs in these environments. When the eye is continuously assaulted by UV rays, the conjunctiva may thicken in a process like a callus formation on the skin. The sensitive structures of the outer eye often cannot comfortably tolerate this degenerative process, and irritation, redness, foreign body sensation, and ocular fatigue can result.
The best method of preventing pterygium is to regularly wear UV 400 rated sunglasses when outdoors in sunny conditions. Sunglasses with a wrap-around design provide better protection than those with large gaps between the sunglass frame and the skin around the eyes. Wearing a hat with a wide brim provides valuable additional protection.
In mild cases, pterygium redness and discomfort can be controlled with lubricant eye drops (artificial tears). When symptoms of redness, irritation, or blurred vision are resistant to conservative treatment, or when vision is affected by progressive growth of a pterygium, or if the appearance of the pterygium is cosmetically unappealing, surgery is considered. Our surgeons at Ophthalmology Associates will discuss your surgical options when this decision is made.