While it’s not fully understood why a pterygium forms in the eyes of some people, its nickname, “surfer’s eye,” reveals the connection to ultraviolet (UV) light exposure. A wedge-shaped growth on the conjunctiva, the clear outer coating of the eye, a pterygium is benign. It’s not cancerous, and it won’t spread to other parts of the body.
In many cases, a pterygium may cause no trouble at all, remaining unobtrusively small. Sometimes, however, it can continue to grow. When you begin to experience symptoms, visit the nearest location of IC Laser Eye Care. Our pterygium specialists can help you find the solution you need to minimize the impact of this eye condition.
Worldwide, about 12% of the population develops pterygium, though it’s rarely seen in children. People over 80 who live near the equator are most commonly affected. Related to UV exposure, pterygium can develop in both eyes, but not usually at the same time.
Starting as a growth in either corner of an eye, a pterygium is raised above the normal level of the conjunctiva. In the early stages, it may be visible while causing no other symptoms. Sometimes, growth stops before the pterygium creates any other problems. Other times, it can continue to grow throughout the patient’s life.
As symptoms develop, your eye may become irritated and red and develop itchy or burning sensations. Your eyes may feel dry and gritty, or the irritation may cause watery eyes with an abundance of tears. As the pterygium grows, the appearance of your eye may be affected by the growth, and your vision can be compromised if the pterygium begins to grow over the cornea.
A related growth, called a pinguecula, is a smaller white or yellow growth that won’t interfere with your vision, but may cause similar irritation problems.
Treatments for pterygium
Though the growth of pterygium may stop at some point, the remaining lesion won’t erode or disappear. The only way to remove a pterygium is through surgery. However, surgery is only recommended if:
- The pterygium lesion continues to grow
- Your eye’s appearance becomes bothersome
- The size of the lesion causes irritation or discomfort
- Your vision is compromised by the lesion
- Eye movement becomes restricted
Removing a pterygium surgically won’t prevent regrowth of the lesion. The subsequent pterygium may be harder to remove. Other treatments after the initial procedure can help to prevent pterygium regrowth.
Because surgery could potentially make your problems worse, our ophthalmologists usually start with more conservative treatments, such as over-the-counter artificial tears and eye lubricants. If these fail to provide sufficient relief, stronger prescription medications may delay the need for surgery.
Contact one of IC Laser Eye Care’s offices — in Philadelphia or Bensalem, Pennsylvania, and Hamilton, New Jersey — to consult with our specialists about the treatment options that are right for you. You can reach us by phone or by requesting an appointment online.