Pterygium –  Definition, Causes, Treatment, and Prevention.


Pterygium means “wing” and refers to a wing-like growth on the surface of the eye.  It (growth) spreads from the conjunctiva over the cornea. The conjunctiva is the mucous membrane covering the whites of the eyes (sclera) and the cornea is the clear windshield of the eye.  Pterygia are more common in areas of the world nearest the equator.

Pterygium is more common in countries near the equator, therefore long-term exposure to sunlight, particularly ultraviolet (UV) rays have been a suggested cause. In addition, others believe that chronic eye irritation may play an important role. Therefore, it occurs more often in people who spend time outdoors, particularly in sunny climates.

Pterygiums are benign (not malignant) tumors. Hence it doesn’t invade the eye, sinuses or brain. It does not spread to other parts of the body (metastasize).

Epidemiology of Pterygium

The prevalence of pterygium was found to be 10.2% in the world, with the highest prevalence in low altitude regions. Increased incidence of it is noted in the tropics and in an equatorial zone between 30° north and south latitudes. Higher incidence is associated with chronic sun exposure (ultraviolet light), older age, male sex, and outdoor activity.

Types of Pterygium

A pterygium has two types of progressive or atrophic.
The differences between the progressive and atrophic pterygium

  Progressive pterygium Atrophic pterygium
Appearance Thick and fleshy Thin and membranous
Blood vessels Very prominent Very few blood vessels giving a pale appearance
Cap in front of the head Present Absent
Progression Continues to advance further into the cornea Static after an initial period of growth

Risk factors

  • Ultraviolet exposure (single most significant risk factor)
  • Exposure to irritants (dust, sand, wind)
  • Inflammation
  • Dry ocular surface

Causes of Pterygium

  • The main cause is almost certainly lifetime sun exposure – UV light. People who live in hot, dry, sunny regions and spend a lot of time outdoors have a higher chance of developing a pterygium than others. The risk is also increased by not wearing sunglasses or a sun hat.
  • Sports people such as sailors, surfers, and skiers also have a high incidence because of the high levels of reflected UV light they encounter. Pterygia are also more common in areas where there is ozone layer depletion, such as New Zealand.
  • It usually occur in people aged 20 to 50, and are more common in men, probably due to an increased likelihood of an outdoor work environment.


Symptoms of pterygium may include:

  • Redness and inflammation, particularly if the pterygium is growing
  • Blurred or distorted vision, if it grows onto the cornea
  • Burning
  • Gritty feeling
  • Itching
  • The sensation of a foreign body in the eye
  • Sometimes a pterygium does not cause any symptoms other than its appearance.

Eye with pterygium

Complications of Pterygium

Complications depend mainly on the size of pterygium and the severity of corneal invasion:

  • Corneal astigmatism with blurred vision.
  • Dry eyes.
  • Recurrent eye irritation.
  • Red eyes and inflammation.
  • Difficulties in wearing contact lenses.
  • Ocular motility restriction.
  • Cosmetically disturbance.

Diagnosis and test

Your healthcare provider will ask about your health history and give you a physical exam. This may include a detailed eye exam, especially if you have eyesight symptoms. Your healthcare provider may refer you to an eye doctor (ophthalmologist).

Your eye doctor will look closely at the growth to make sure it is not another eye condition. In some cases, the doctor may take a small sample (biopsy) of it. The sample is checked for cancer. Most people will not need a biopsy.

Treatment and medications

Pterygium usually doesn’t require treatment if symptoms are mild. If a temporary worsening of the inflamed condition causes redness or irritation, it can be treated with:

  • Lubricating eyedrops or ointments, such as Blink or Refresh drops
  • Occasional use of vasoconstrictor eyedrops, such as Naphcon A
  • A short course of steroid eyedrops, such as FML or Lotemax

Surgery- Grafting with fibrin glue

The surgery consists of removing the pterygium and replacing it with a graft of tissue, which is glued into place. There are no sutures and the procedure is completely painless. Because of the medications you’ve received, you won’t be able to drive yourself home.

The use of fibrin glue in pterygium surgery with conjunctival autographing significantly reduces surgery time, improves postoperative patient comfort and results in lower recurrence rate compared with suturing.

Prevention of Pterygium

  • You may help prevent it by wearing sunglasses every day, even on cloudy days. Choose sunglasses that block 99%-100% of both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) radiation.
  • Wraparound sunglasses provide the best protection against ultraviolet light, dust, and wind.
  • Experts also recommend wearing a hat with a brim to protect the eyes from ultraviolet light.
  • To keep your eyes moist in dry conditions, apply artificial tears.

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  1. the lecture was rich. I see myself coming out of the mess just by the teaching here

  2. My eye doctor in Lome – Togo has messed up right eye concerning pterygium problem rather blinded with pain always on it.Can l have alternative,of retaining the eye back to see.

  3. Your NameMary Minise

    Thankyou for lecture.
    l will protect eyes. with glasses.
    My right eye is having sign of that eye problem..
    l will see eye doctor as soon ad possible for further investigations.

  4. ptrigyum was removed one years ago from my left eye but during healing time it again produced I am going to remove again after one year. It was operated
    Manualy should I ask to remove by laser ?

  5. I’ve that thing on my both eyes ,and I always put on spectacles ,but when I remove them off ,something like tears/water in my eyes. what could it be?

  6. thank you for lecture im very greatful

  7. im very happy for your lecture

  8. Muhammad afnan khattak

    nice I m feeling so happiness b/c I see this type of lecture first time so tnx

  9. Alagboso Emmanuel Obinna

    thanks for this info, I learnt a lot. can laser operation correct this eye problem permanently?

  10. what nutrients can the patient with pterygium need, or can he take supplementry diet?

    • Foods to Improve Eye Health
      Leafy greens. Leafy greens should make up a significant part of your diet
      Eggs. Eggs are a widely popular source of protein
      Vitamin C rich fruits. Fruits such as oranges, lemons, grapefruit and berries are rich sources of vitamin C
      Fatty fish

  11. Terri Morris Heron

    Hi. I am in treatment for a tarigium. (wrong spelling, I know), the optometrist, not the optomologist.
    The ootomologist suggests surgery because of the blurry eyesight.
    The optometrist is treating with 2 different eye masks, and 2 different eye drops.
    This is time consuming and expensive.
    Also, she suggests 4000 mg fish oil daily.She is very efficient.
    So, Fish oil, 2 masks, day and night and four 6 eyedrops daily
    what are your thoughts on this?
    will appreciate your feedback.
    Appreciate you.

    • Pterygium is a growth of tissue on the cornea that can affect vision. The suggested treatment plan involving eye masks, eye drops, and fish oil is often aimed at managing symptoms and promoting eye health. The use of lubricating eye drops and fish oil supplements may help alleviate dryness and inflammation associated with the condition. However, if surgery is recommended by an ophthalmologist due to blurry eyesight, it may be essential for addressing the underlying issue and improving vision. It’s crucial to discuss your concerns, treatment options, and potential outcomes with both your optometrist and ophthalmologist to make informed decisions about your eye care.

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