A pterygium is a wing-like growth that develops when an eye is regularly exposed to bright sunlight and windy environments, particularly around dust or sand. Pterygiums are common in Australia and particularly widespread in surfers, hence its other name – ‘Surfers Eye’.
The pterygium – pronounced as ter-igh-e-um – is a pink, fleshy growth that originates from the skin of the eye (the conjunctiva). The growth can gradually move across the cornea. It can cause scarring and, in some cases, visual loss.
A pterygium can affect one or both eyes. It’s more common in people between the ages of 20 and 40, and more prominent in males.
In the beginning, a pterygium can go unnoticed, or simply seem like an irritation in the eye. As it progresses, it may begin to grow across the cornea. Common symptoms of a pterygium include:
There are also some cosmetic issues associated with a pterygium. A person may feel uncomfortable about the appearance of the eye, which may initially motivate them to seek treatment.
Treatment of a pterygium When it is small, a pterygium can be managed with eye drops or ointments to ease symptoms.
However if there is a suggestion that the pterygium is growing across the cornea or causing other problems, it is best to have it surgically removed to avoid complications and loss of vision.
The pterygium can be removed effectively by a corneal surgeon using modern microsurgical techniques.
People who are often outdoors should do everything they can to prevent a pterygium. Wearing good quality wrap-around sunglasses as, recommended by your optometrist, and a wide-brimmed hat will help to protect the eyes from sun and wind exposure and therefore the risk of developing a pterygium.