A pterygium – pronounced as ter-ig-e-um – is a fleshy triangular growth that develops when an eye is regularly exposed to bright sunlight and wind. It’s common in people who spend a lot of time outdoors in sunny and windy conditions, especially surfers. Hence the condition’s other name – Surfer’s Eye.
Pterygium is a usually harmless condition affecting the ‘skin’ of the eye (the conjunctiva), typically on the side closest to the nose. If it grows across the cornea, it can cause scarring and sometimes loss of vision. The growth may also distort the shape of the cornea, causing vision problems (e.g. astigmatism).
One or both eyes can be affected and it’s more common in people between 20 and 40 years. Men are usually more likely to develop a pterygium than women.
Diagnosing a pterygium is usually straightforward using a slit lamp.
A pterygium can go unnoticed for many years, or it may be dismissed as a general irritation of the eye. As it progresses, it can start to spread across the cornea. Common symptoms include:
Some people with a pterygium may find it difficult to wear contact lenses, while others dislike the look of the growth on their eye and may seek surgical treatment to have it removed.
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In many cases, pterygium treatment involves the use of simple eye drops to manage symptoms, such as inflammation, mild pain, itching or a feeling of having grit in the eye. Treatment for a minor irritation includes eye drops or ointments that help to lubricate and soothe the cornea. For severe inflammation, you may be prescribed a short course of steroid eye drops. These medications only ease the symptoms and are not a cure.
If the growth is significant and continues to spread across the cornea or causes other problems, pterygium removal is usually recommended to eliminate associated symptoms and avoid adverse effects on vision. Some people choose to have pterygium surgery for cosmetic reasons. Using modern micro-surgical techniques, the surgeon will carefully remove the pterygium and replace it with a graft of healthy tissue taken from the same eye, which is fixed into place. There is a chance that the condition may recur following surgery, but the process of grafting helps to prevent this.
The information on this page is general in nature. All medical and surgical procedures have potential benefits and risks. Consult your ophthalmologist for specific medical advice.
IMPORTANT: If you are concerned about your eyes and require an urgent consultation, DO NOT use this form. Please call one of our clinics during office hours or contact your nearest emergency department.