A pterygium is a painless, non-cancerous growth of the conjunctiva, the lining that covers the white part of the eye. The pterygium may grow on the cornea, which covers the iris, the colored part of the eye. A pterygium usually begins at the nasal side of the eye and can be different colors, including red, pink, white, yellow or gray.
Patients with pterygium often first notice the condition because of the appearance of a lesion on their eye or because of dry, itchy irritation, tearing or redness. Pterygium is initially noticed when it is confined only to the conjunctiva. At this stage of development it is called a pinguecula. As it extends to the cornea it is termed a pterygium and can eventually lead to impaired vision.
Pterygium is diagnosed after a thorough medical examination of the eyes. A slit-lamp examination will allow the physician to examine the cornea, iris and lens to confirm diagnosis.
Symptoms of Pterygium
Symptoms of pterygium include:
- Tissue in the inner or outer corner of the eye
- Dry eyes
- Redness of the eye
- Burning of the eye
- Blurry vision
In more severe cases, the pterygium may grow over the pupil and limit vision.
Surgical Treatment of Pterygium
For those patients with severe cases of pterygium and whose vision has been affected, different types of surgery are available. Surgery is the only way to definitively remove a pterygium, but it is not a perfect solution; it requires long-term follow-up, and the recurrence rate is between 30 to 40 percent.
Amniotic Membrane Transplantation
Amniotic membrane transplantation is another safe and effective procedure to remove a pterygium. Donor tissue from an inner layer of the human placenta is used to reconstruct the surface of the eye. This type of graft encourages healing and reduces swelling.
Prevention of Pterygium
To minimize the risk of the pterygium re-occurring, even after surgery, a radiation treatment using strontium may be recommended. Strontium plaque therapy produces beta particles that penetrate the cornea and prevents the regrowth of blood vessels that occur when the pterygium returns.
Sunglasses that block UV rays, particularly sunglasses that provide side coverage, are a good means of protection against pterygium. Wearing a hat with a brim to limit or block sunlight is also helpful. In hot, dry climates, artificial tears should be used to help lubricate the eyes.