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A pterygium is a non-cancerous growth of the clear, thin tissue (conjunctiva) that lays over the white part of the eye (sclera). One or both eyes may be involved.

medical illustration showing a pterygium on an eye

Causes, Incidence, and Risk Factors

The cause is unknown, but it is more common in people with excess outdoor exposure to sunlight and wind, such as those who work outdoors.

Risk factors are exposure to sunny, dusty, sandy, or windblown areas. Farmers, fishermen, and people living near the equator are often affected. Pterygium is rare in children.

Symptoms

The main symptom of a pterygium is a painless area of raised white tissue, with blood vessels on the inner or outer edge of the cornea. Sometimes it may become inflamed and cause burning, irritation, or a feeling like there’s something foreign in the eye.

Signs and Tests

A physical examination of the eyes and eyelids confirms the diagnosis. Special tests are usually not needed.

Treatment

No treatment is needed unless the pterygium begins to block vision or causes symptoms that are hard to control. Then it should be removed with surgery. Our surgeons utilize the most advance surgical techniques for pterygium removal. It is a short, out-patient procedure averaging about 30-45 minutes. Our no stitch/no needle process ensures a fast recovery and most patients are back to work within 3-4 days. For every pterygium removal, Dr. Bigles uses Mitomycin-C along with an amniotic membrane graft to reduce the chance of recurrence.  By using these advanced techniques, the likelihood of recurrence is reduced from 50% to 3-5%. Wear protective glasses and a hat with a brim to prevent the condition from returning.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most pterygia cause no problems and do not need treatment. If a pterygium affects the cornea, results are usually good after it is removed.

Complications

A pterygium can return after it is removed. People with pterygium should be seen by an ophthalmologist each year, so that the condition can be treated before it affects vision. Call for an appointment with your ophthalmologist if you have had a pterygium in the past and your symptoms return.

Prevention

Protecting the eyes from ultraviolet light may help prevent this condition.