What Is A Pterygium?

Young woman with Pterygium surfing

The UV light, particularly from a strong source like the sun, can do an extraordinary amount of damage to the eyes. It can lead to developing cataracts, macular degeneration, and sunburn on your cornea.

One negative effect of sunlight on your eyes is a growth known as a pterygium. Keep reading to learn more about what a pterygium is and how to prevent its development!

What is Pterygium?

Pterygium forms on the white of the eye also called the sclera. It appears as a fleshy growth that becomes larger and larger.

When left alone, pterygium can even get so big that it encroaches on the cornea. This can lead to vision problems as it blocks light out.

These vision problems include high-order aberrations and astigmatism. They are often accompanied by other symptoms such as gritty and burning sensations.

You may also have the constant feeling of having a grain of sand in your eye. Smaller pterygia won’t usually have any of these symptoms and are considered harmless. This is especially because pterygia are noncancerous.

Pterygia will likely form in the corners of the eyes closest to the nose. They can grow from opposite corners as well.

A single pterygium can be present, or there may be several pterygia. Pterygia are often confused with pinguecula. Pinguecula is a separate skin growth that occurs around the eyes.

Preventing pterygia

Due to pterygia’s association with sunlight, someone with pterygium also has a “surfer’s eye”. The sun isn’t the only factor that causes pterygium.

Other factors like dust, wind, and dry eye may also be to blame. Surfers experience long periods of sunlight.

Surfers get even more sunlight than normal due to sunlight reflecting off the water. This is where the term “surfer’s eye” comes from.

To prevent pterygia, always wear 100% UV protected sunglasses when outside. Sunglasses that are not 100% UV protected will not prevent pterygia from forming.

They also cause even more damage to the insides of your eyes than not wearing sunglasses at all. The shade from unprotected sunglasses will still cause your pupils to dilate.

This allows significantly more unfiltered light inside. To be the most protected, always wear 100% UV protected sunglasses outdoors.

Removing a pterygium

If you already have a pterygium, or one does form despite precautions, they are removable. If it is small and unobtrusive, you may be prescribed eye drops.

These eye drops help reduce swelling and provide lubrication. You may also receive special contacts to cover the growth. This blocks it from any more sun exposure so it can’t continue growing.

If you need to have the growth removed, you’ll undergo a simple surgery. A pterygium removal should only take between 30 to 45 minutes to complete.

After numbing and sedation, the targeted tissue and surrounding area are cleaned. They will then carefully remove the pterygium.

It is then replaced with a graft of scleral tissue from beneath the eyelid. This tissue is safely secured with special glue or sutures.

Although it will be tempting, it is important to avoid rubbing your eyes during recovery. You will wear a pad over your eye that will provide comfort and prevent infection.

It is also important for you to attend all follow-up visits. You must follow any cleaning or medication instructions given to you.

If you notice any growths on your eye, don’t hesitate to come to New York Eye Specialists in NYC and schedule an appointment!