What Is a Pterygium and How Is It Treated?

Also known as “surfer’s eye,” a pterygium is an abnormal growth on the eye that can affect anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors.

Now that summer is in full swing, people are heading to the beach to dip into refreshing ocean waters and bask in the sunlight. Enjoyable as they may be, these hours spent outdoors can put individuals at risk of developing a common eye condition known as a pterygium.

Sometimes referred to as “surfer’s eye,” pterygia commonly strike not only surfers, but anyone who is frequently exposed to harsh sunlight, wind, and dust. Often seen in people between the ages of 20 and 40, a pterygium starts as a fleshy bump on the surface of the eye. These bumps typically appear on the inner side of the sclera, the thin tissue covering the white of the eye.

Though noticing a bump on your eye can be alarming, pterygia are benign growths. Most people experience only mild symptoms from a pterygium, and the condition is easily treatable with medication or a simple outpatient surgery. An eye care specialist can diagnose a pterygium and recommend a treatment plan.

Causes and Symptoms of Pterygia

The odds of developing a pterygium are increased by overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, which is why the condition is commonly found in surfers. People who are exposed to overly windy and dusty environments, as well as people with dry eyes, may also be at higher risk of developing a pterygium.

Patients who have a pterygium often experience a burning or itching feeling in their eyes, sometimes accompanied by the feeling that an object is stuck in their eyes. The affected eye often takes on a pink or reddish color. If the pterygium encroaches on or covers the pupil, it can also cause blurry or double vision.

Treating a Pterygium

The appropriate treatment for a pterygium depends on the size of the growth. A doctor can determine the right course of action by examining the pterygium with a special microscope called a slit lamp. Smaller growths are usually treated with lubricants or mild steroid eye drops that counteract redness and swelling. During the healing process, a special contact lens can also be placed over the eye to offer protection from UV rays and other irritants.

If more conservative treatments fail to lessen its symptoms, your doctor may recommend surgery to remove your pterygium. There are several common surgical techniques used to remove pterygia, but most removal procedures last about 30 minutes. Patients should be aware that this type of surgery sometimes induces or exacerbates astigmatism.

Once you’ve experienced one pterygium, the chances of a recurrence are relatively high. Fortunately, by surgically grafting tissue from the sclera onto the area of a previous pterygium, the odds of a recurrence are reduced. Applying a topical medication like mitomycin C (which inhibits abnormal tissue growth and scarring) is another approach to preventing a recurrence.

After surgery, patients are advised to wear an eye patch during the first day or two of the recovery period. In general, patients should be able to return to work the day after surgery. As the eye recovers in the several months following surgery, patients should apply steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation. Because of the risk of recurrence, pterygium patients are closely monitored for a year after surgery.

To diminish the odds of developing a new or recurring pterygium, it’s important to take precautionary measures. Those who spend many hours in the sun are at an especially high risk of developing a pterygium, and should make a concerted effort to wear sunglasses to block out harmful UV rays.

Do You Have a Pterygium?

If you suspect you have a pterygium, consider reaching out to the eye care specialists at Swagel Wootton Eye Institute. We have extensive experience diagnosing and treating this condition. We can help identify and treat your pterygium, either through therapy or surgery.

Don’t let a pterygium spoil your summertime fun! Contact us to schedule an appointment today.

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