A pterygium is a fleshy wedge-shaped growth on the surface of the eye (conjunctiva) that extends onto the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eye). Most commonly, it is due to extensive sun exposure and UV light, but is also known to have a genetic link.
Symptoms of pterygium include redness, irritation, foreign body sensation and dryness. The appearance of a pterygium can also motivate people to seek treatment. In advanced cases, vision can be blurred if the pterygium extends over the pupil or distorts the corneal shape (inducing astigmatism).
A related condition is a pinguecula which is similar to a pterygium. It is a soft yellow mass confined to the white part of the eye. It can be surgically removed in the same way as a pterygium if necessary.
Pterygium needs to be treated only when it is causing discomfort or is affecting vision (due to causing corneal astigmatism or growth over the centre of the vision) or is interfering with contact lens wear. A pterygium often leaves a permanent corneal scar, which may affect vision. It may also be advisable to remove a pterygium if it is adversely affecting intraocular lens measurements for cataract surgery.
If the pterygium is small and causing no or minor symptoms, it can be left alone and treated with artificial tears lubricants. It should be reviewed if it appears to be getting larger. Some people dislike the appearance and request to have the pterygium removed for this reason.
This procedure is performed under local anaesthetic as an outpatient procedure in a day surgery. You can breathe and talk freely during the procedure and let us know if you are uncomfortable. If you are very nervous, the anaesthetist will give you medicine to keep you calm and relaxed.
The procedure typically takes 20 minutes to complete. It involves gently removing the pterygium and placing a small conjunctival graft in its place Your surgeon will take the conjunctival graft from underneath the upper eyelid, from an area that is pristine and unaffected by sun exposure. This graft prevents recurrence of the pterygium and improves the cosmetic appearance post-operatively.
The latest development in pterygium surgery is the use of fibrin glue to secure the graft to the surrounding conjunctiva, rather than using suture. The glue not only shortens the recovery time, but dramatically improves patient comfort after surgery.
A contact lens will be placed in the eye at the end of the procedure, and the eye will be covered by an eye pad. You may remove the eye pad the next morning and start your eye drops; you will need to continue these for at least 1 month. The contact lens will be removed by your surgeon 3-7 days after the procedure.
The eye will be gritty, sore, red, and sensitive to light for the first few days, and the vision may also be blurry initially as the surface of the cornea heals over. Most people prefer to take 5-7 days off work following the procedure.
All surgical procedures carry some risk. The information provided here is for general educational purposes only. Please contact Forest Eye Surgery to find out if pterygium surgery is appropriate for your individual situation.