The treatment of pterygium largely depends on the symptoms. In the case of a small pterygium with no symptoms, watchful waiting is the key. Look out for any increase in the size of the growth by looking in the mirror. Regular visits to the doctor for eye examination may be needed.
The doctor may prescribe artificial tears to relieve irritation and burning caused by the pterygium. To manage pain and swelling, the doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops, such as steroid eye drops. Anti-allergy drops may be given to reduce itching in the eye.
If the pterygium grows big enough to affect or cause bothersome foreign body sensation, the doctor may advise surgery. Surgical removal of the pterygium is done by a board-certified ophthalmologist (eye surgeon). The surgery is generally done under local anesthesia. The surgeon will remove (excise) the pterygium and may transplant healthy conjunctiva from the eye to the site from where the pterygium is removed. This prevents the regrowth of the pterygium after removal. Certain medications, called antimetabolite drugs, may be prescribed to prevent the recurrence of the pterygium. The doctor may prescribe pain medications, steroid eye drops, and antibiotics after the surgery.
What is a pterygium?
The white of the eye (called the sclera) and the inner side of the eyelids are covered by a thin layer of transparent tissue called the conjunctiva. A pterygium is a noncancerous (benign), fleshy growth of thickened conjunctiva. A pterygium can grow over the cornea (the transparent tissue covering the colored part, iris, and the hole in the iris, pupil). A pterygium can cause a disturbance in vision when it involves the cornea. Additionally, it is cosmetically unappealing. A pterygium generally occurs when conjunctival tissue starts growing abnormally. The growth generally starts from the part of the conjunctiva near the nose. It then grows further and may encroach on the cornea. Pterygium can affect anyone. It is, however, more common in:
- Adults aged between 20-40 years.
- People who live in sunny, hot, and dry climates.
- People who work outdoors.
Men may be affected slightly more commonly than women. Studies suggest a role of genes in the causation of pterygium. Although not strongly supported by evidence, human papillomavirus (HPV) infection may be associated with pterygium.
What are the symptoms of pterygium?
Symptoms may vary depending on the size of the pterygium and if the cornea is involved. A small pterygium may cause mild or no symptoms. Some of the symptoms may include:
- Irritation or burning sensation in the eye
- Eye redness
- Foreign body sensation in the eye
- Eye dryness
- Vision disturbances (when the cornea is involved)
- Gritty feeling in the eye
- Restriction of eye movement (rare)
How can you prevent a pterygium?
Pterygium can affect anyone regardless of age and gender. The following tips may help to avoid getting a pterygium or prevent its regrowth after surgery:
- Use sunglasses that protect the eyes from ultraviolet (UV) light and dust
- Wear a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors
- Use protective eye gear
- Avoid exposure to dust, smoke, chemical pollutants, and wind
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Boyd K. Pinguecula and Pterygium (Surfer's Eye) Treatment. American Academy of Ophthalmology. October 29, 2020. https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pinguecula-pterygium-diagnosis-treatment