A pterygium is an overgrowth of fibrovascular tissue and the mucous membrane known as the conjunctiva over the surface of the cornea. Our patients who suffer from a pterygium often describe a whitish, wing-shaped growth that starts to grow over the colored portion of the eye.
Most pterygia start off as pingueculae. A pinguecula is a whitish-yellow growth or elevation on the white part of the eye. They are most commonly located nasally or temporally along the interpalbebral fissure which is the area between the upper and lower eyelid. When pingueculae start to grow centrally over the cornea creating a wing-like appearance, they are called pterygia.
Pterygia by themselves are not harmful. They are often related to excessive sun, dust, and wind exposure. Use of protective eyewear such as sunglasses can be very helpful. The incidence increases dramatically in those individuals who have grown up in locations close to the equator.
Medical management is with lubricating eye drops and occasionally anti-inflammatory eye drops. Sometimes, pterygia require surgical excision. Indications for surgery include growth of the pterygium over the visual axis, excessive irritation that does not respond to medical management, or the development of high astigmatism (corneal surface irregularity that greatly distorts vision).
Whenever a pterygium or pinguecula is removed by one of our eye care professionals, it should be sent out for pathology. In rare instances, a precancerous lesion can masquerade as a pterygium.