Pterygium

Non-cancerous Pterygium growths are common in people who spend a lot of time outside in sunny, windy conditions. This eye issue tends to affect people who work outside for a living rather than outdoor enthusiasts – though it’s not unheard of. This condition is especially prevalent in sunny states like Colorado and Texas.

ICON Eyecare offers a variety of pterygia treatment options, ranging from eye drops to surgical removal.

  • What is a Pterygium?

    A pterygium is a non-cancerous growth of tissue that forms on the conjunctiva. Normally the conjunctiva is a thin clear membrane over the ‘whites’ of the eye (sclera) and extends to the inner surface of the eyelids. When a pterygium is present, a fleshy mass is felt or seen on the conjunctiva. Larger growths may extend across the cornea. A pterygium is typically painless, but it can cause significant discomfort and even affect vision.

    Although it can affect any person, a pterygium tends be more common in adults who spend long periods of time outdoors — in sandy or dusty areas and where there is significant exposure to sunlight and wind. For this reason, a pterygium is commonly referred to as “surfer’s eye” since the environment at a beach presents most of the risk factors associated with the eye condition.

    At ICON Eyecare eye surgery clinics in Colorado and Texas, pterygiums are frequently seen in occupations that spend long hours outside, such as landscapers and farmers, and less in outdoor enthusiasts. Occupation can be a common factor in developing a pterygium for those with jobs that spend their workdays outside. Complications from pterygiums are not common, but pterygia should still be assessed and treated by a doctor as early as possible.

  • Causes of Pterygiums

    The exact cause of a pterygium is not known. However, it appears to be a reaction to irritation caused by prolonged exposure to UV light (like in sunlight), dust or sand and wind. People who tend to suffer from dry eyes may also be more prone to developing a pterygium particularly if they spend most of their time outdoors. Pterygia (plural for pterygium) often occur in multiple members of families thereby indicating a genetic predisposition.

    Despite being very thin, the conjunctiva shields the delicate tissue of the eye. However, with a pterygium the conjunctival tissue undergoes abnormal changes marked by alterations of connective tissue at the site and blood vessel growth in the mass.

    A larger growth can extend to the cornea, which is the clear area where light enters the eye, and impair vision in various ways.

    Men are more commonly affected than women and a pterygium tends to occur more frequently in the 20 to 40 year age group. It is quite rare in children. Despite being commonly referred to as a surfer’s eye, a pterygium is also seen in farmers, landscapers, and fishermen. Workers involved in any outdoor occupation are at the greatest risk, particularly if they live close to the equator or at higher altitude.

  • Pterygium Symptoms

    A pterygium is usually visible on the eye surface although sometimes it may not be noticeable. Smaller and less prominent lesions tend to appear like a little bump on the conjunctiva. However, larger lesions may be significantly elevated with a white to reddish appearance. Pterygia are often preceded by another mass known as a pinguecula, resembles a yellowish patch on the conjunctiva. Most pterygia occur on the part of the eye that lies closest to the nose. It may affect one eye only (unilateral) or even both eyes simultaneously (bilateral).

    Although a pterygium is not considered to be a serious eye condition, it tends to cause significant discomfort in most cases. Patients tend to report the following symptoms:

    • Burning or itching of the eye(s)
    • A gritty feeling similar to ‘dirt in the eyes’
    • Foreign body sensation
    • Visual disturbances with larger growths
  • How Do I Know if I Have a Pterygium?

    In most cases, pterygia are diagnosed after a physical examination of the eyes and eyelids. The eye may be photographed to monitor the progression of the growth. If necessary, specialized diagnostic tests may be done particularly when the pterygium is extends onto the cornea. A corneal topography maps the surface of the cornea to detect any distortions that may arise with a larger pterygium.

    If you suspect you have pterygium, schedule an appointment with and ICON Eyecare doctor online.

  • Pterygium Treatment

    Pterygia are typically treated with medication. Sometimes a doctor may adopt a ‘wait-and-watch’ approach where no treatment is prescribed immediately. Medication that may be used to treat pterygia includes:

    • Artificial tears in the form of eye drops, which lubricates the surface of the eye.
    • Sometimes lubricating ointments may be applied to the eye in more severe cases.
    • Topical corticosteroids which are used for a short period to reduce inflammation of the eye.

    Surgery to remove the pterygia may be recommended depending on the severity of the condition and its response to medication. Surgical excision is done under local or topical anesthesia and is an outpatient procedure.

    Most patients respond well to medication especially when it is combined with preventative measures. The outcome after surgery is also quite good and post-operative complications are uncommon. Pterygia surgery has both a visual and cosmetic advantage but in milder cases this can be achieved with the use of medication.

  • Cost of Pterygium Surgery

    The cost of pterygium surgery is typically between $1800-$2000 per eye. It is billable to most insurance providers.

  • How to Pronounce Pterygium

    Pterygium is one of those difficult to pronounce medical terms that describes a growth on the eye. Pterygiums are common in patients that spend a lot of time outside, such as landscapers or surfers.

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