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Pterygium: Causes, Symptoms And Treatment

A pterygium (pronounced as ter-ij-ee-um), similar to pinguecula, is non-cancerous growth on conjunctiva.


However, it is shaped differently, grows in a different fashion and has more blood vessels. 

While pinguecula is a yellowish patch on the sclera (whites of the eye), pterygia (plural) appear as pinkish triangular or wing-shaped fleshy tissues.

In fact, pterygium actually means ‘wing’ in Greek.  

Unlike pingueculae where they do not interfere vision, pterygia (plural) can affect vision and may cause scarring as they may to grow towards the pupil, covering the cornea along their path.

Pterygia occur more frequently in hot, dusty climates and are commonly seen among people who spend a lot of times outdoor without protection from the sunlight.

It is particularly popular among surfers which is why it is also known as the Surfer’s Eye.

Symptoms And Signs

Some of the symptoms include:

Beginning Stage

  • Elevated white fleshy tissue with prominent blood vessels on the inner or outer edges of the eye
  • Eye feeling dry
  • Occasional watery eye
  • Irritable or itchy feeling in eye
  • Redness and inflammation over the affected area
  • Foreign body sensation in the eye

Advanced Stage

  • Whitish patch covering the cornea of the eye
  • Blurring of vision (when the tissue grow over the central cornea or when it causes astigmatism due to the pressure it exerts on the cornea surface) 

Causes Of Surfer's Eye

The exact cause for pterygia is not known, however long-term exposure to sunlight (ultraviolet rays), wind and dry eye syndrome have appeared to be the most likely contributing factors.

Studies shown that pterygium occurrence is more common in surfers, farmers, and people living near the equator. 

It is also important to note that surfer's eye is often preceded by a related non cancerous condition called pinguecula, a yellowish patch or bump on the conjunctiva near the cornea.

Treatment For Pterygium

You should see an eye doctor after discovering that you have symptoms of pterygia. An eye doctor will then examine the severity of the condition.

Most eye doctors will prefer to leave pterygia alone until they begin to irritate tremendously or cover the cornea and affect normal vision. 

If the condition is mild and inflammation occurs, your eye doctor may prescribe a lubricating eye drop to relieve the irritation.

In some cases, a mild steroid may be given to be applied for a short period of time to reduce swelling and inflammation.

Once pterygium starts to block vision, a surgery may be necessary. But always treat this as the last option as all surgeries involve risks.

This type of surgery may incur risks such as serious perforation, corneal scarring and astigmatism. 

During the procedure, a topical anesthetics will be used to numb the surface of the eye. The eye is being kept opened with an eyelid spectrum while the pterygium is surgically removed. 

What follows is a process known as grafting. In the process, a piece of the patient’s conjunctiva or an amniotic membrane will be glued or stitched to fill the empty space created by the removal of pterygium. 

This is important as during the olden days without grafting, the risk of pterygia re-growing is a scary 50%. Now with grafting installed, the risk is reduced to 10%.

After the surgery you are likely to wear an eyepatch for a day or two.

Steroid may also be prescribed to prevent inflammation and scarring of the eye.

You should up closely with the doctor for at least a year as most recurrence occurs within 12 months after the surgery.

Prevention Of Surfer's Eye

The best way to prevent pterygia from hitting or recurring is to reduce environmental assault on your eyes. 

Wraparound Sunglasses

Wear good quality sunglasses that can absorb 100% ultraviolet rays (UVA and UVB) when you go outdoors even on cloudy days.

UV rays are always around regardless of whether there are clouds or not.

Wear wide-brimmed hats for additional shelter.

Stay out of windy, dusty and polluted environment. If you can’t avoid them, wear a protective eyewear. They can protect your from the irritants which are floating in the air.

For best protection against the sun and windy environment, consider wearing wraparound sunglasses.

Keep your eyes lubricated and moist. If you are experiencing dry eye syndrome, use un-preserved artificial tear drops and some suggestions from Natural Remedies For Dry Eyes to relieve the dry eye symptoms.

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