Sometimes referred to as “surfer’s eye”, a pterygium is a triangular or wedge shaped growth that can develop on the conjunctiva, which is a clear, thin membrane that covers the white of the eye. Pterygiums most commonly affect people between the ages of 20-40, particularly if they spend a great deal of time outdoors. The most common cause of pterygiums is UV exposure, but they can also form due to eye irritation caused by dust, wind or dirt. Genetics may also play a role, since some people can develop them even without spending a great deal of time outdoors, while others may never develop them even though they do spend a large amount of time outdoors.
Typically, pterygiums start to develop in the inner corner of the eye, closest to the nose. In their earliest stages they may not even be noticeable, but they can eventually grow to cover the cornea in the center of the eye, at which time they may begin to develop blurred vision. As pterygiums grow, they also become more noticeable and appear as red, pink or yellow fleshy growths in the eye. Some pterygiums can be treated at home using OTC remedies, but if they continue to grow, they may eventually need prescription treatments or even surgery.
If pterygium surgery is required, it is minimally invasive and generally takes less than an hour. Prior to surgery, your doctor will outline any precautionary steps you might need to take, which can include fasting or only eating a light meal prior to surgery. You may also be asked to remove contact lenses at least 24 hours prior to surgery. Since you will also be lightly sedated during surgery, you will need to arrange transportation following the surgery.
The surgical procedure itself is fairly quick and involves minimal risk. During the surgery, the pterygium will be removed along with some of the associated conjunctiva tissue. Your doctor will them perform a graft of membrane tissue which will help to prevent recurrent growths and will be secured either via sutures or fibrin glue. While sutures are the most standard practice, they can cause discomfort post surgery and extend recovery times by several weeks. Fibrin glue can decrease recovery time, but it also carries an increased risk of infection. A third option, known as the bare sclera technique, is one in which the pterygium is removed but no tissue graft is performed. With this procedure, there is a higher risk of pterygium regrowth of an even larger size.
Following the surgery, an eye patch or pad will be applied to help prevent infection. Your doctor will also provide you with instructions for cleaning and care. You will also get a prescription for antibiotics to prevent infection as well as instructions for any follow-up visits. Depending on the technique used during surgery, recovery times can range anywhere from a few weeks up to a few months.