What is a Pterygium? And What are my Treatment Options?

People generally describe a pterygium as a “whiteish-yellowish, wing-shaped growth” that grows over a part of your cornea, but what is it exactly? Medically speaking, a pterygium is an overgrowth of fibrovascular tissue and conjunctiva on the surface of the cornea.

In most cases, a pterygium begins as a pingueculae (try saying that ten times fast)—An elevated “whitish-yellowish growth” on the white of the eye. Pingueculae are most commonly located nasally, or temporally, on the interpalbebral fissure—located in the area between your upper and lower eyelid. A pingueculae becomes known as a pterygium when it starts to grow in a wing-like shape more centrally over the cornea.

By themselves, pterygium aren’t harmful and most commonly are caused by an over exposure to the sun, dust, or high winds. It is important to wear protective eyewear, like sunglasses, to protect your eyes when you are outside. An interesting fact—Cases involving pterygium become more common as you get closer to the equator.

Never fear though, there is medical treatments for pterygium. In fact, most commonly pterygium can be treated with lubricating eye drops or anti-inflammatory eye drops. In some cases, removing pterygium can require surgery, but this is far less common than the aforementioned removal using medical eye drops. Surgery only becomes necessary if the growth: starts inhibiting the visual axis, is unresponsive to medical eye drop treatment and becomes excessively irritating, or you begin to develop a serious astigmatism (caused by corneal surface irregularity).

Should a pterygium or pingueculea be removed using surgical methods, it should be sent to a pathologist to analyze. In rare cases, precancerous lesions can masquerade themselves as pterygium.

If you find that you are developing, or have developed, a pingueculae or pterygium make sure to have it checked out by your eye doctor so that future treatment can be planned!

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