A pterygium, plural pterygia, is a wedge-shaped growth of abnormal vascular tissue that forms on the eye. It is a benign growth, non-cancerous and relatively harmless. However, when a pterygium extends onto the pupil, it can interfere with vision.
Pterygia are more common in people, especially men, aged 20 to 50 who spend a lot of time outdoors exposed to sunlight and who do not wear sunglasses or hats. Pterygia are also more common in areas where there is ozone layer depletion, such as New Zealand, and in people who work in dirty, dusty environments.
Symptoms and Detection
A pterygium can be seen as a flesh pink growth on the white of the eye, between the eyelids and most often in the corner of the eye, close to the nose. A pterygium may feel as if you have something in your eye. Other symptoms include dry eyes, irritation, inflammation and redness. Pterygia can make it more difficult or uncomfortable to wear contact lenses.
Pterygia are usually diagnosed based on the appearance of wing-shaped soft tissue growths from the nasal or temporal bulbar conjunctiva toward the cornea.
Eye drops usually help alleviate symptoms such as inflammation. In severe cases in which a pterygium affects vision, surgery may be undertaken.
Unfortunately, pterygia may return despite proper surgical removal. To help prevent recurrences, surface radiation, conjunctival implants (grafts) or chemotherapy medications can be used. Patients with pterygia should wear ultraviolet protective sunglasses, use artificial tears and avoid dry and dusty conditions.