What is a Pterygium?
A pterygium is a wedge-shaped growth of conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the white of the eye) that extends onto the cornea. The word pterygium comes from the Greek word for wing. Pterygia are most commonly seen on the side toward the nose, but can occur on either or both sides.

What Are The symptoms?
Usually there are no symptoms, but light sensitivity, irritation and tearing can occur. Pterygia can also decrease vision: If they grow far enough onto the cornea they can block vision, and sometimes they can distort your vision (cause astigmatism) before they grow that far.

How Do You Manage a Pterygium?
In most cases no treatment is necessary. Lubricating eye drops can be given for irritation. Redness may be managed with vasoconstricting eye drops, and rarely with antiinflammatory drops. Ultraviolet light exposure should be minimized, with use of a hat and/or sunglasses when outdoors.

Surgical removal may be recommended if the pterygium is growing far enough onto the cornea to threaten your line of vision. Pterygia may also be removed if they cause persistent irritation, or if they are interfering with vision. Occasionally they are removed for cosmetic reasons. However, it is important to keep in mind that pterygia can recur, typically within a few months of the surgery. If simple excision is performed the chance of a recurrence is about 30%.

What is Involved in The Surgical Removal of a Pterygium?
The removal may take place in a procedure room or operating room setting. The eye is numbed and the pterygium is carefully dissected off the surface. There are several methods to reduce the chance of re-growth. These are the most common:
  • some of the healthy surface tissue (conjunctiva) of the same eye is removed from up under the lid and attached over the portion of the white part of the eye from which the pterygium was removed.
  • an antimetabolite (such as Mitomycin) may be applied to the site, either during surgery or as eye drops after surgery. This inhibits an aggressive healing response of the eye to the surgery.
  • A piece of amniotic membrane from a donor (processed from human placenta) is sewn over the portion of the white part of the eye from which the pterygium was removed.
  • Other modalities to reduce recurrence include Strontium 90 Beta irradiation, topical thiotepa.
After surgery, steroid eye drops are used for several weeks to decrease inflammation and reduce the risk of re-growth of the pterygium.

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Copyright © 2009 Robert C. Arffa, M.D., 1370 Washington Pike, Bridgeville, PA 15017