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Pterygium

Definition

A pterygium is a non-cancerous growth of the clear, thin tissue (conjunctiva) that lays over the white part of the eye (sclera). One or both eyes may be involved.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The cause is unknown, but it is more common in people with excess outdoor exposure to sunlight and wind, such as those who work outdoors.

Risk factors are exposure to sunny, dusty, sandy, or windblown areas. Farmers, fishermen, and people living near the equator are often affected. Pterygium is rare in children.

Symptoms

The main symptom of a pterygium is a painless area of raised white tissue, with blood vessels on the inner or outer edge of the cornea. Sometimes it may become inflamed and cause burning, irritation, or a feeling like there's something foreign in the eye.

Signs and tests

A physical examination of the eyes and eyelids confirms the diagnosis. Special tests are usually not needed.

Treatment

No treatment is needed unless the pterygium begins to block vision or causes symptoms that are hard to control. Then it should be removed with surgery. Wear protective glasses and a hat with a brim to prevent the condition from returning.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most pterygia cause no problems and do not need treatment. If a pterygium affects the cornea, results are usually good after it is removed.

Complications

A pterygium can return after it is removed.

Calling your health care provider

People with pterygium should be seen by an ophthalmologist each year, so that the condition can be treated before it affects vision.

Call for an appointment with your ophthalmologist if you have had a pterygium in the past and your symptoms return.

Prevention

Protecting the eyes from ultraviolet light may help prevent this condition.

References

Farjo QA, Sugar A. Pterygium and conjunctival degenerations. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier; 2008:chap 4.9.


Review Date: 11/8/2010
Reviewed By: Daniel E. Bustos, MD, MS, Private Practice specializing in Comprehensive Ophthalmology in Eugene, OR. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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