What is a pterygium?
If you notice a small elevation on the white part beside the colored part of your eye, you may have a pterygium. It might look yellowish, and may be a little red, with blood vessels around it. A pterygium is a degeneration thought to be caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, compounded by wind and dust.
During surgery, the pterygium is removed from the cornea and the base of the pterygium is either left untouched or covered with a membrane graft taken from other, unexposed, parts of the eye. This grafting is highly effective in preventing the pterygium from recurring. The eye is normally patched for a few days, after which the patient can resume normal life.
Technically, if the growth is limited to the white part of the eye, it is called a pinguecula. Only when a growth progresses over the cornea is it considered a pterygium. This growth is not cancerous, and is harmless to the eye. It can make the eye more sensitive to irritants such as dust and wind and cause discomforts such as a burning sensation or tearing. Certain medicines can alleviate the discomfort, but cannot completely cure a pterygium.
The Treatment of Pterygium
Like a cataract, a pterygium is a surgical condition. Because it is mostly harmless, it is usually left alone, treated symptomatically with artificial tear eye drops when the eye feels irritated. However, pterygia sometimes advance towards the center of the eye and can block vision. At other times they may become very prominent and cosmetically noticeable. In these cases, a surgical removal of the pterygium is indicated.