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What Is a Pterygium?

A pterygium is a type of non-cancerous (benign) growth on your eye that is often only a minor problem unless it affects your vision.

A pterygium occurs when part of the eye’s conjunctiva – the thin layer that lines your eyelids and the white of your eye – starts to grow abnormally. This growth often starts on the white part of your eye that is closer to your nose. If the pterygium covers part of your cornea, the clear layer that covers the front of the eye, it is more likely to cause vision problems.

Who Is at Risk for a Pterygium?

The exact cause is unknown. A pterygium can occur at any age and may be slightly more common in men than women and particularly in their 20s to 40s. It is believed that exposure to ultraviolet light, a dusty environment or working outside in a sunny climate are possible factors. Having certain genes may also predispose to a pterygium development.

Pterygium Disease

What Are the Symptoms of a Pterygium?

Symptoms are often mild and many people don’t have any symptoms. You are less likely to have symptoms if the growth is still small.

Common symptoms include:

  • Eye irritation and burning
  • Eye dryness
  • Eye redness
  • Blurred vision (if the growth gets close to the middle of your cornea)
  • Restriction of eye movement (this is rare)


Some people don’t like the way a pterygium looks. Typically, a pterygium it is a triangle-shaped red, white or pink growth that may not be noticeable until it has covered a major part of the cornea.

How Is a Pterygium Diagnosed?

Your optometrist can diagnose this with a comprehensive eye exam and refer you to an ophthalmologist for evaluation.

How Is a Pterygium Treated?

If a pterygium is not causing any symptoms, it won’t need treatment. If symptoms develop, your eye care provider might recommend the following:

  • Over-the-counter products to help with redness or irritation, such as artificial tears or other eye drops, gels, or ointments
  • Prescription eye drops, gels, or ointments, if the over-the-counter products don’t help
  • Surgery


Only surgery can remove your pterygium. But other treatments may help reduce symptoms. Your eye care provider may be more likely to recommend surgery if:

  • Your growth is causing vision problems or is getting larger
  • You can’t move your eye normally
  • You have severe eye irritation that won’t go away with other treatment
  • Your eye’s appearance bothers you

A pterygium may grow back after having the surgery to remove it and may be more likely if you are under the age 40.

Your pterygium may be less likely to return if you have other treatments as well as surgery. These treatments, such as MMC (mitomycin C), stop cell growth in the area and they may help prevent future growth. A treatment called beta irradiation may also help prevent regrowth.

Pterygium Treatment

What Are Possible Complications of a Pterygium?

A pterygium itself may not cause problems other than redness and eye irritation. But if it grows into your cornea, it may cause vision problems.

What Can I Do to Prevent a Pterygium?

Not all cases are preventable. You can reduce your risk of a pterygium by reducing your sun exposure. Use sunglasses and hats when you are outside and make sure your sunglasses block both ultraviolet A and B rays.


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