What is Pterygium?

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Pterygium is a common, non-cancerous growth on the clear surface of the eye, known as the conjunctiva. These wedge-shaped tissue growths typically form on the side of the eye toward the nose but can also occur on the outward side of the eye, toward the temple.

Although they rarely cause loss of vision on their own, a pterygium can be irritating and, if left untreated, may grow to obstruct vision as it slowly extends across the cornea over time. Keep reading to learn more about pterygium, including what causes it and the most common symptoms!

What Causes Pterygium?

The exact cause of pterygium is not entirely understood, but most eye doctors believe ultraviolet (UV) radiation from sunlight plays a major role. There tends to be a much higher rate of pterygium among people who spend significant time outdoors in sunny, dry climates closer to the equator.

In particular, UV rays reflecting off surfaces like water, sand, concrete, or snow can concentrate on areas of the eye, leading to inflammation that triggers the growth. Genetics may also make some people more susceptible to UV damage. 

Additionally, dry eye syndrome and chronic eye irritation are thought to contribute by keeping the conjunctiva in an inflamed state. While anyone can get them, having an outdoor lifestyle raises risk.

Do Pterygium Have Symptoms?

In the early stages, pterygium does not usually cause symptoms and is only detected during an eye exam. However, as it progressively grows across the cornea over time, certain symptoms may arise.

These include:

  • Persistent redness
  • Itching or feeling like something is in your eye
  • Tearing
  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Increased sensitivity to wind, dust, or light

The location and size of the pterygium often determine the type and extent of symptoms. Some pterygia reach a certain size then remain relatively dormant, while aggressive ones relentlessly stretch onto the pupil area compromising vision. 

If you notice worsening irritation or rapid vision changes, you should schedule an appointment with your eye doctor at Stahl Eyecare Experts right away.

How Do You Get Rid of Pterygium?

Pterygia are typically removed with minimally invasive surgery. This outpatient procedure usually takes less than thirty minutes. 

The growth is carefully removed and discarded, and new skin is grafted onto the area. Grafting conjunctiva skin onto the surgery site greatly reduces the chances of the pterygium regrowing.

The skin is usually taken from a small patch of conjunctiva underneath the eyelid. This keeps the donor area protected while it regrows. 

Recovery from the surgery can take several weeks but is generally smooth.

How Can I Avoid Getting Pterygium?

While pterygia can seem inevitable if you spend a lot of time outdoors in sunny climates, there are ways to reduce your risks. The most important preventative measure is wearing UV-blocking sunglasses outside, especially in highly reflective environments or at higher altitudes and latitudes closer to the equator. 

Wide-brimmed hats also help filter sunlight hitting the eyes from overhead and peripherally. Making sure to regularly lubricate eyes with artificial tears if you suffer from dry eye syndrome can ease irritation. 

While genetics play a role, diligent sun protection and avoiding excessive eye inflammation offers hope of dodging pterygium surgery by promoting corneal health. 

Are you experiencing symptoms of pterygium? Schedule an appointment at Stahl Eyecare Experts in Garden City, NY, today!


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