Pterygium is an abnormal conjunctival tissue that becomes a raised, thick triangular-shaped growth associated with long-term exposure to UV light. It can develop at either corner of the eye -- in one or both eyes -- more often from the corner closest to the nose. You can experience redness and irritation in the eyes. Pterygium can also cause vision disturbance; its treatments include lubricating and anti-inflammatory eye drops and surgical removal in some cases.
Some people may not experience any symptoms. At the early stage, the affected eye may develop:
- Growth of the elongated pink bump
- Redness, swelling, irritation
- Dryness, itchiness, and burning sensation
- A feeling of having sand or grit
- Overflow of tears
At the late stage, the lesion can increase in size. It can cause double or blurry vision as astigmatism develops or pterygium spreads over the cornea.
When to see a doctor
If you start to have growth in your eye or blurred vision, seek immediate medical care to find out the root cause and get proper treatment at an early stage.
The most common causes of pterygium are long-term UV or sunlight exposure and eye irritation due to wind, dust, and dry weather.
Pterygium can be diagnosed and graded by slit lamp examination. Serial photographs of your eyes can track the changes or growth of pterygium. Additional tests may be required to rule out other medical conditions, such as cancer.
If you have no discomfort or visual-related problems, you may not need any treatments; follow-up appointments with your doctor to track the change and growth of pterygium are still necessary.
If you have eye discomfort, your doctor may prescribe:
- Lubricating eye drops, decongestant drops, or eye ointments to relieve discomfort.
- Steroid eye drops or ointments to treat redness, swelling, itching, or pain.
Meanwhile, you may want to avoid wearing contact lenses.
Your doctor may recommend surgery if you have the following conditions:
- Your vision is impaired.
- You develop astigmatism.
- You do not like the way your eye looks.
- Your symptoms do not improve with eye drops or ointments.
Pterygium does not resolve by itself, and surgery is the only way to excise it completely.
To prevent and lower the risk of developing pterygium, you can:
- Avoid direct sunlight, heat, dust, and strong wind.
- Wear sunglasses or a sombrero to prevent you from UV light.
Pterygium is not considered a critical eye condition despite its scary look. Some people may not need treatment. However, others may need lubricating eye drops to relieve the discomfort. If the pterygium grows and interferes with your vision, reach out to your doctor about the pros and cons of surgical options. Wearing sunglasses or a wide-brimmed hat can help lower the risk of aggravated pterygium.
Dr Vannarut Satitpitakul
A doctor specializing in cornea and refractive surgery / corrective