A pterygium is a fleshy, triangular or wing-shaped growth of the conjunctiva of the eye. It usually occurs on the inner corner of the eye but can also appear on the outer corner. It is a slow-growing, benign lesion, and is usually harmless. However, in rare cases, a pterygium may sometimes grow over the central cornea and affect vision.
The signs and symptoms of a pterygium include:
You should use adequate UV protection when outdoors in sunlight or driving, such as sunglasses with UV protection or hats with wide rims.
The exact cause of pterygium is still not known, and is thought to be due to multiple factors interacting together. However, ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun has been proven to be the most likely contributing factor. Exposure to dry, dusty conditions has also been thought to play a role.
Diagnosis is made upon examination by an ophthalmologist.
In cases when there are no symptoms and the pterygium is not cosmetically significant, it can be left alone. When the pterygium causes irritation, redness or discomfort, artificial tears can help moisturise the eye and relieve the discomfort. Eye drops, however, will not affect the growth of the pterygium.
When the pterygium affects vision, causes persistent irritation or discomfort, surgical removal is recommended. The surgery involves removing the fleshy growth and transplanting a translucent patch of conjunctiva over the area to reduce the risk of the pterygium growing back (recurrence). This patch of conjunctiva is usually from one's own eye (a conjunctival autograft), and the autograft can be secured with sutures or with the use of fibrin glue (sutureless). The autograft may be harvested manually or assisted by laser.
Complications of pterygium surgery are uncommon, but can include infection, scarring or thinning of the surgical site. The most common complication is recurrence. Fortunately, the risk of pterygium recurrence following surgical removal and a conjunctival autograft (our gold standard for pterygium surgery) is low (less than 5%).
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