It can be distressing to see something growing on your eye. An abnormal, noncancerous growth in the conjunctiva is called a pterygium. These small fleshy spots extend onto the surface of the eye from the conjunctiva, a membrane lining the inner eyelid.
For some, pterygia stay small and don’t affect vision. In other people, they grow quickly and can distort the corneal surface. This leads to blurred vision. Fortunately, pterygia aren’t usually painful.
Treating a Pterygium
Most treatments will be focused on preventing progression, inflammation, or infection.
In small pterygia that aren’t causing additional symptoms, observation may be appropriate. Your doctor will schedule periodic eye exams and closely monitor the growth.
If your doctor feels you’re at risk of complications like infection, they may prescribe medications.
- Topical antibiotics to prevent infection
- Topical corticosteroids to reduce inflammation
- Ocular lubricants, like artificial tears, to increase comfort
If your pterygium severely impacts your vision, you’ll need surgery to correct it. This surgery is a simple outpatient procedure, with low risk of complications.
In very rare cases, the growth may cause corneal scarring. If this happens, a corneal transplant may be performed.
Once the pterygium has been surgically removed, medication may be used to aid in healing and prevent recurrence.
Who Gets a Pterygium?
While this eye condition can affect anyone it’s more common in men. It’s also more common the older you get.
Other risk factors include:
- Excessive exposure to environmental conditions (sunlight, dust, dirt, heat, dryness, wind, smoke) due to:
- Outdoor hobbies
- Work in occupations with excessive exposure to solvents or chemicals
- Family history
The main symptom of pterygium is the growth itself. In many, there are no additional symptoms. But the bump may cause:
- Sensation of something in the eye
- Blurred vision
Your eye doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. An eye exam will be done.
Tests may include the following:
- Visual acuity — to measure your ability to see an eye chart
- Slit lamp examination — a bright light with magnification used to view the eye
- Corneal topography — a computerized test that maps changes to the curvature of the cornea
- Photo documentation — photography to record the degree of growth of a pterygium
There are some steps you can take to prevent a pterygium. These are especially important if you have a family history.
- Wear dark glasses with UV protection to shield the eyes from sun, dust, and wind
- Avoid harsh environmental factors to slow the growth or regrowth