Pterygium Surgery (Surfer's Eye)

A pterygium (plural, pterygia) is a type of noncancerous growth on your eye. It is usually only a minor problem unless it causes visual symptoms.

The conjunctiva is the thin layer that lines the inside of your eyelids and the surface of your eye. Sometimes, part of this conjunctiva starts to grow abnormally. This growth usually starts on the white part of your eye that is closer to your nose. It can also begin on the other side. From there, the abnormal tissue can spread and cover your cornea. This is the clear window in the front part of your eye that caps the colored iris and dark pupil. The name “pterygium” is Greek for “wing.” It refers to the triangular shape of the growth.

Though a pterygium is a type of growth, it is not a type of cancer and will not spread to other parts of your body. If you have a pterygium, it might stop growing at some point, or it might continue to grow throughout your lifetime. It may grow over a period of months to years and then stop for a while. If it grows and covers your cornea, it is more likely to cause visual symptoms.

What causes pterygia?

Exposure to ultraviolet light plays some role. Having certain genes may contribute to pterygia in some people as well, but there are currently no definitive causes. 

Pterygia are most common in adults in their 20s to 40s, although people of all ages can get them. They are more common in sunny climates and in people who do outdoor work. Pterygia may be slightly more common in men than in women.

Who is at risk for pterygia?

Spending a lot of time in the sun may increase your risks for pterygia. Not using sunglasses may further increase your risk. If someone in your family has had a pterygium, you may be at greater risk as well.

What are the symptoms of pterygia?

Symptoms of pterygia are often mild. Many people don’t have any symptoms, especially if the pterygium is still small. Some symptoms can include:

  • Eye irritation
  • Eye dryness
  • Eye redness
  • Blurred vision (if the pterygium gets close to the middle of your cornea, the front window of your eye)
  • Restriction of eye movement (rare)

How are pterygia treated?

If your pterygium is not causing any symptoms, it may not need treatment. If symptoms develop, it is recommended you see an eye care provider to determine treatment. Some options include:

  • Over-the-counter products to help with redness or irritation, like artificial tears or other eye drops, gels, or ointments
  • Prescription eye drops, gels, or ointments, if the over-the-counter products do not help
  • Surgery

Only surgery can remove your pterygium, but other treatments may help reduce symptoms. Your eye care provider may be more likely to recommend surgery if:

  • Your pterygium is causing vision problems or is getting larger
  • You can’t move your eye normally
  • You have severe eye irritation that won’t go away with other treatment
  • Your eye’s appearance bothers you a lot

Unfortunately, pterygia often grows back after surgical removal. (This may be more likely if you are under age 40.) Going over your options with an eye care provider will allow you to understand if surgery makes sense for you.

Halifax Health - Ophthalmology

Halifax Health – Ophthalmology provides comprehensive treatment or surgical plans for your eye condition needs. You will have confidence that you are in the best hands during your treatment plan as our ophthalmologist, Dr. Nishita Patel, is Halifax Health’s only eye trauma surgeon at our Level II Trauma Center. This means that your eyes are in the care of a doctor who has extensive training and experience to handle not only regular eye treatments but also those emergency cases that can save someone’s eye health or vision.

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