Pterygium: Understanding Pterygium Surgery and Treatment Solutions


What is a pterygium?

A pterygium is a common eye condition characterized by the growth of a fleshy tissue on the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that covers the white part of the eye. This abnormal growth usually starts from the inner corner of the eye and gradually extends toward the cornea. Pterygium is often referred to as “surfer’s eye” due to its association with excessive exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation. While it is typically benign, in some cases a pterygium can cause discomfort and affect vision..

Symptoms of a pterygium

The symptoms of a pterygium can vary from person to person. Some individuals may not experience any symptoms at all, while others may have noticeable discomfort and visual disturbances. Common symptoms include:

  • Redness and inflammation of the affected eye.
  • A sensation of having a foreign body in the eye.
  • Itching and irritation.
  • Dryness and a gritty feeling.
  • Blurred or distorted vision, especially if the pterygium grows over the cornea.

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is essential to consult an eye care professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment recommendation.

Causes of a pterygium

The exact cause of pterygium is not fully understood, but several factors are believed to contribute to its development. The primary cause is thought to be excessive exposure to UV radiation from the sun or other sources, such as tanning beds. Other factors that may increase the risk of developing a pterygium include:

  • Chronic eye irritation from dust, wind, or dryness.
  • Genetic predisposition.
  • Living in areas with high temperatures and low humidity.
  • Occupational exposure to dust, sand, or chemicals.

While these factors increase the likelihood of developing a pterygium, it is important to note that not everyone exposed to these conditions will develop the condition.

Treatment options for a pterygium

When it comes to treating a pterygium, the traditional approach involves a combination of conservative measures and surgical intervention. The treatment plan depends on the severity of the pterygium and the symptoms experienced by the patient. Conservative measures include:

  • Lubricating eye drops to alleviate dryness and discomfort.
  • Steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation and swelling.
  • Wearing sunglasses or protective eyewear to shield the eyes from UV radiation.

Who needs Pterygium surgery

If conservative measures fail to provide relief or if a pterygium is causing significant visual impairment, surgical removal may be recommended. Sometimes a pterygium may cover the pupil, and obstruct the visual axis. In this case removal of the pterygium alone may improve visual acuity and relieve visual impairment. In other cases, a pterygium creates a more oval shape in the cornea inducing corneal astigmatism. This astigmatism may be correctable with a glasses prescription or contact lenses. However, for those individuals seeking vision correction surgery, such as LASIK or cataract surgery, it is important to evaluate pterygium induced astigmatism beforehand. Although pterygium surgery is not always required before vision correction treatment, if a pterygium is inducing astigmatism, in many cases it should be removed beforehand. After the pterygium is removed, most patients will need to wait between three and six months for their prescription to stabilize and for vision correction surgery to be performed. Finally, in some cases pterygium can cause discomfort with contact lenses necessitating removal before contact lens wear can be resumed.

Pterygium surgery: What to expect

Pterygium surgery aims to excise the abnormal tissue and prevent its regrowth. The procedure is typically performed under local anesthesia and involves removing the pterygium and grafting a thin piece of healthy conjunctival tissue onto the affected area. If you and your eye care professional decide that pterygium surgery is the best course of action, it is essential to understand what to expect before, during, and after the procedure. Here is a breakdown of the typical process:

  1. Pre-operative assessment: Your eye care professional will evaluate your overall eye health and discuss the surgery in detail, addressing any concerns or questions you may have.
  2. Surgery day: The procedure is performed as an outpatient surgery, meaning you can go home the same day. You will be given local anesthesia to numb the eye, ensuring a painless experience.
  3. Surgical technique: The surgeon will carefully remove the pterygium and graft a small piece of healthy conjunctival tissue onto the affected area. The graft is secured in place with sutures or tissue glue.
  4. Post-operative care: You will be provided with detailed instructions on how to care for your eye after surgery. This may include using prescribed eye drops, avoiding strenuous activities, and wearing an eye patch or protective shield to prevent accidental rubbing or bumping.
  5. Follow-up visits: Regular follow-up visits with your eye care professional are crucial to monitor the healing process and ensure there are no complications. It may take several weeks for your eye to fully recover and for the redness and swelling to subside.

The pros and cons of pterygium surgery

While pterygium surgery can effectively remove the abnormal tissue and improve symptoms, it is essential to consider the pros and cons before making a decision. Here are some factors to consider:

Pros of pterygium surgery:

  • Removal of the pterygium, reducing discomfort and visual disturbances.
  • Potential improvement in overall eye health and appearance.
  • Preventing the pterygium from growing further and potentially affecting vision.
  • Restoring confidence and quality of life.

Cons of pterygium surgery:

  • Risks associated with any surgical procedure, such as infection, bleeding, or scarring.
  • The possibility of recurrence, although less common with modern surgical techniques.
  • Temporary discomfort and sensitivity in the eye during the healing process.
  • The need for follow-up visits and post-operative care.

To learn more and determine if pterygium surgery is right for you, schedule an appointment with our skilled team of doctors at Cornea Laser and Eye Institute today.

Alternative treatment options for a pterygium

While pterygium surgery is the most common treatment option, there are alternative approaches that may be considered, especially for mild cases or individuals who prefer non-invasive methods. Some alternative treatment options include:

Topical medications: 

Certain prescription eye drops or ointments may help reduce inflammation and slow down the growth of the pterygium.

Lifestyle changes to prevent pterygium growth

Regardless of the treatment option chosen, certain lifestyle changes can help prevent the growth and recurrence of a pterygium. Here are some recommendations:

  • Protect your eyes from UV radiation by wearing sunglasses with UV protection and a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors.
  • Use lubricating eye drops regularly to maintain moisture and prevent dryness.
  • Maintain good eye hygiene by washing your hands before touching your eyes and avoiding rubbing your eyes excessively.
  • Follow a balanced diet rich in antioxidants and vitamins, as they can support overall eye health.

By incorporating these lifestyle changes, you can reduce the risk of developing a pterygium or prevent its recurrence after treatment.

Exploring the best treatment option for your pterygium

When faced with a pterygium, it is important to explore all available treatment options and make an informed decision in consultation with an eye care professional. While surgery is often the go-to solution, alternative treatments may be suitable for some individuals, especially those with mild cases or concerns about surgical intervention. 

If you are experiencing symptoms of a pterygium or have concerns about your eye health, it is crucial to seek professional advice. Book a pterygium consultation here to explore your options and receive expert guidance. 

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