A pterygium is a benign fleshy overgrowth of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the outer surface layer of the white part of the eye. The pterygium grows over the cornea, which is the transparent structure at the front of the eye. Pterygia typically develop on the inner corner of the eye nearest the nose, and can occur in one or both eyes.
An early pterygium may not be very noticeable, and is unlikely to affect your vision or cause discomfort.
As a pterygium grows, it appears fleshy and triangular, and may cause eye redness. It can distort the shape of the eye to cause astigmatism which requires spectacles correction. It is usually painless but can cause eye discomfort and grittiness. If the pterygium continues to grow across the cornea, it may obstruct the vision.
To reduce the risk of developing a pterygium, wear:
If a pterygium does not cause any symptoms, it does not require treatment. Lubricating eyedrops can be used to relieve the eye discomfort associated with a pterygium.
When there is significant eye redness, a short-term course of topical steroid eyedrops can reduce the inflammation.
Surgery is the only treatment to remove a pterygium. You may choose surgery if:
During surgery, the pterygium is removed, leaving a bare uncovered area. A piece of conjunctiva from the top part of your eye under the eyelid is used to cover this bare area, and is held in place either with stitches or glue. This reduces the risk of the pterygium growing back. After removing the pterygium, this may leave behind a cornea scar.
The surgery may reduce your astigmatism, but is unlikely to completely eliminate it. After pterygium surgery, it is common to have some eye discomfort and redness for a few weeks. Your eye doctor will prescribe you antibiotic and steroid eyedrops.
Pterygium surgery is generally a safe surgery with a high success rate. In 5 - 10% of people, the pterygium may grow back, especially if there is persistent exposure to high levels of UV light. Most patients who undergo pterygium surgery have a good outcome.