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Patient education: Pterygium (The Basics)

Patient education: Pterygium (The Basics)

What is a pterygium? — A pterygium is an abnormal growth on the eye (picture 1). It is a triangle-shaped area of tissue that grows from the corner of the eye towards the center. The tissue can be thin and white or thicker and pink or red.

Doctors don't know what causes pterygium. It is sometimes called "surfer's eye." That's because people who spend time around sun, wind, and sand seem to have a higher risk of getting it. But most people with pterygium are not surfers.

What are the symptoms of a pterygium? — The most common symptoms include:

A white or pink growth that partly covers the eye (picture 1)

Eye redness

Eye discomfort

Blurry vision

You can get a pterygium in 1 eye or in both eyes.

A few people only notice a pterygium when it starts to cover the iris. The iris is the colored part of the eye.

Should I see a doctor or nurse? — See your doctor or nurse if you have blurry vision or other vision problems, or if you notice a growth on your eye.

Is there a test for a pterygium? — No. But your doctor or nurse should be able to tell if you have a pterygium by doing an exam and talking with you. The doctor will also check that the growth is a pterygium and not a different eye condition.

How is a pterygium treated? — Treatments include:

"Artificial tears" – These can help with redness and irritation. You can buy artificial tears at the drug store or grocery store without a prescription. They come in liquid eye drops, gels, or ointments. Your doctor or nurse can help you decide which form is best for you.

Prescription eye drops, gels, or ointments – Your doctor or nurse might give you these if over-the-counter artificial tears do not help.

Surgery – Doctors might remove the pterygium if:

It causes serious vision problems, or will soon.

It keeps the eye from moving normally.

It causes serious irritation that does not go away with other treatments.

It makes the eye look very strange and this affects your life a lot.

It is common for a pterygium to come back after surgery. If it does, it can be harder to get rid of the next time. So doctors usually do surgery only if a pterygium causes serious problems.

Can a pterygium be prevented? — Maybe. Protecting your eyes from the sun could help, especially if you spend a lot of time outdoors. You can:

Wear a hat when you are outdoors.

Wear sunglasses that fit well and block UVA and UVB rays. The label on the sunglasses will say what type of rays they block. If you wear prescription sunglasses, make sure they block both types of UV rays.

More on this topic

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Patient education: Conjunctivitis (pink eye) (The Basics)
Patient education: Photokeratitis (arc eye) (The Basics)

Patient education: Conjunctivitis (pink eye) (Beyond the Basics)

This topic retrieved from UpToDate on: Mar 03, 2022.
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