WHAT IS A PTERYGIUM?
Also commonly known as ‘Surfer’s Eye’, pterygium (plural – pterygia) is an overgrowth of the conjunctiva – which is the mucous membrane that normally covers the white of the eye. It appears as a slowly growing fleshy looking tissue that extends from the white of the eye onto the cornea – the transparent ‘window’ that covers the iris and pupil. In some eyes, if untreated, it may continue to grow across the cornea, affecting vision by causing astigmatism and eventually covering the pupil.
WHAT CAUSES A PTERYGIUM?
Known risk factors for developing a pterygium include:
- Ultraviolet light exposure being the most significant risk factor. People who spend a lot of time under the sun (e.g. surfers, farmers, outdoor sport players) are at the highest risk.
- Dusty or sandy environments – ongoing irritation of the eye surface is also thought to contribute to development of a pterygium.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF PTERYGIUM?
Those with a pterygium may experience chronic grittiness, itching and dry eye sensation. It may become recurrently red, inflamed and unsightly.
If large enough, it may affect vision by distorting the contour of the cornea causing astigmatism and eventually cover the line of sight through the pupil.
PREVENTION AND TREATMENT OF A PTERYGIUM?
‘Prevention is better than cure’. Avoiding sun / UV exposure by wearing well fitted ‘wraparound’ UV blocking sunglasses is the most effective way to prevent formation of pterygia and reduce the chance of further growth. It must be stressed that fit of the sunglasses is just as important as the UV blocking rating. It should block sunlight entering from the side and should be well fitted against the face so there is minimal gap for UV to get in.
In most people with pterygium, regular use of lubrication eye drops may be enough in reducing the symptoms to an acceptable level. Occasionally, a short course of prescription anti-inflammatory drops may be required if it becomes very inflamed.
For some, however, surgery may be required to remove the pterygium completely. For more information about pterygium surgery, please click here.