What Is a Pterygium?

Pterygia are fibrous, non-cancerous growths that appear on the clear, thin membrane that covers the white of the eye (the sclera). Caused by overexposure to the elements, these growths cause hazy vision — and sometimes even block one’s vision entirely — and cannot be cured with glasses or contact lenses. The best way to prevent a pterygium is to wear sunglasses and a hat to limit your exposure to sun, dust, wind, smoke, and other environmental factors.

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Do I Have a Pterygium?

Often referred to as “surfer’s eye,” pterygia most often occur in the eyes of people who spend long stretches of time outside. Those who work outdoors are the most likely to develop them, especially if they live in areas that receive high levels of UV radiation — think: near the equator or at high altitudes. Men are more susceptible to pterygia than women, and pterygia are most likely to appear in those who are between 30 and 50 years old. Having light skin or light eyes also increases your risk of developing a pterygium.

Because they cause hazy vision, pterygia are sometimes confused for cataracts, though in many cases, a mild pterygium may not even have symptoms or require treatment. However, if you experience a gritty, itchy, or burning sensation — or if it feels like something is in your eye — these are indicators that a pterygium may be growing.

If you’re experiencing any of these symptoms, it’s a good idea to contact an eye care professional to discuss treatment options. If left unchecked, a pterygium can distort the shape of the cornea, causing astigmatism and other vision issues. Regardless of severity, if you have a pterygium it should be regularly monitored to prevent scarring and potential vision loss.


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Treating a Pterygium

Removing a pterygium is a simple, in-office procedure that only takes about ten minutes. Doctors administer a local anesthetic to help you remain comfortable throughout the procedure. After your procedure, you will receive antibiotic ointment and an eye patch that should be worn overnight, and will be asked to return to our office the next day for follow-up care.

There is very little downtime associated with pterygium removal, and most patients are able to return to work and other normal activities the day after their procedures. After your procedure, your doctor will advise you on follow-up visits and any further treatment needs.

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