Occasionally I will have a patient visit my office complaining of visible tissue growing over the surface of the eye. This condition is usually diagnosed as a pterygium.
What is a pterygium? It is a benign, triangular-shaped growth of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the thin clear layer of tissue that lies over the white of the eyeball. A pterygium is made up of collagen and fibrovascular tissue that grows from the conjunctiva and eventually advances onto the cornea (the clear outer covering of the eyeball). Pterygia are more commonly located on the inner or medial portion of the eye.
What causes a pterygium? The exact cause is unknown. However, it has been associated with excessive sun, wind, dust, and sand exposure.
What can be done to treat a pterygium? Normally a patient with a pterygium is asymptomatic; hence nothing is done for it.
With mild to moderate pterygia where the patient is symptomatic, artificial tear supplements and/or mild anti-inflammatory drops can be used to minimize symptoms.
As a pterygium grows over the surface of the cornea and towards the center of the eye, it becomes more problematic. Patients will notice that their eye constantly feels irritated. The pterygium also becomes more noticeable to people looking at the patient. Therefore due to constant irritation and the unpleasant appearance of the eye, surgical intervention is available. During surgery, an ophthalmologist excises the growth from the eyeball. Even with complete removal, a pterygium can reoccur.
Even though a pterygium is considered a benign growth of the eye, it can become an annoyance to some patients due to the location of it. Protecting your eyes from excessive sun, wind, dust and sand exposure can help slow the growth of a pterygium. Should you notice any type of growth on the eyeball, it is important to have it proper diagnosed by your local optometrist.