A pterygium is tissue overgrowth from the sclera toward the cornea. This growth usually occurs in the nasal side and is triangular in shape. The overgrowth can appear reddish or pinkish in color and may cause discomfort for the patient. 


A pterygium is usually a painless condition.

It is considered more of an aesthetic issue when the tissue overgrowth has not obscured the pupil or vision. Usually, people with pterygium experience the following symptoms: 

  • Mild discomfort such as a burning sensation, tearing, itching, and foreign body sensation
  • Astigmatism due to the tissue overgrowth over the cornea that may cause blurring of both distant and near vision
  • Reddish or pinkish discoloration of the tissue overgrowth that may be of cosmetic concern to the patient
  • If the pterygium advances further to obscure the pupil, then vision may be affected. 

Causes and Risk Factors

The exact cause of pterygium is not known, but studies have indicated UV radiation exposure to be a major risk factor for pterygium. People living near the equator have higher incidences of pterygium, which may be due to exposure to windy, sunny, or dry climates. Genetic preponderance to pterygium has also been suggested by some studies to be a risk factor. 

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A pterygium is usually treated symptomatically to provide relief from the symptoms. Symptoms such as foreign body sensation, burning, tearing, and itching can be effectively managed with artificial tears. If the pterygium progresses further to obscure vision, then surgical removal of the pterygium may be essential. Also, should the pterygium progress further, surgery must be done early on to avoid the potential of corneal scarring. 

However, surgery is usually not done unless absolutely necessary to avoid unnecessary complications. A technique called conjunctival auto-grafting is done in those patients requiring surgical removal of pterygium. In conjunctival autograft surgery, the bare sclera that is exposed after removal of the pterygium is covered by a conjunctival graft from a healthy part of the patient’s own conjunctiva. 


As the risk factor most associated with a pterygium is UV ray exposure from the sun, protecting the eyes by wearing sunglasses can be an effective method to prevent a pterygium from developing or worsening further. Sunglasses can also be effective to minimize exposure to other known risk factors for pterygium such as wind and sand. 


How is pterygium treated?
Pterygium can only be treated with surgery. However, surgery is not usually done for treating pterygium unless it impairs vision. This is because pterygium can recur after surgery. But, if the pterygium is progressing further, it is best to have it removed early on to minimize the risk of corneal scarring.
Can Pterygium go away on its own?
In some cases, a pterygium may gradually resolve on its own without treatment. But, in most cases, pterygium usually does not go away on its own. Minimizing the risk factors of pterygium such as exposure to sun, wind, and sand can help prevent pterygium progression. By minimizing scleral irritation and with enough time, the pterygium may go away on its own. But, if the pterygium is advancing further toward the cornea, you must have it removed early on to minimize the risk of corneal scarring.
Can pterygium lead to blindness?
A pterygium can grow further out to cover a significant portion of the cornea. This can cause severe corneal scarring. Corneal scarring may then lead to blindness. This is the worst-case scenario for pterygium and is not common. The possibility of pterygium leading to blindness is minimal, but it is still present.
Are ptergygium and pinguencula the same?
No, a pinguecula is not the same as pterygium. A pterygium is a tissue overgrowth that grows toward the cornea in a triangular shape, but a pinguecula does not cover the cornea and is limited to the sclera.
What is the main cause of pterygium?
Although the exact cause of pterygium is not known, there are several risk factors that have been associated with pterygium. The most important risk factor for pterygium is sunlight exposure or UV-ray exposure. Other risk factors for pterygium are wind and sand. People living in tropical areas are prone to developing pterygium due to frequent exposure to windy, sandy, or sunny climates. Genetics has also been implicated as an important risk factor for pterygium.
Can pterygium be prevented?
Prevention of pterygium from occurring in the first place or preventing it from worsening may be possible with adequate protection from exposure to sunlight, wind, and sand. Using sunglasses to protect the eyes or wearing wide-brimmed hats may both be effective to minimize the risk of pterygium.
Is pterygium a tumor?
Pterygium is a benign tumor that does not affect areas beyond the cornea and sclera. The risk of pterygium spreading to distant areas is zero. The worst possible outcome of pterygium is loss of vision in the affected eye if the pterygium covers the pupil or if it causes corneal scarring.
What does a pterygium look like?
A pterygium is a pinkish tissue overgrowth from the sclera (the white visible area in your eyes) toward the cornea (the clear central layer of the eye). This overgrowth extends in a triangular shape toward the cornea and can even obscure the pupil with further growth. If you have pterygium, you may experience symptoms such as foreign body sensation, burning, stinging, tearing, and itching. Pterygium itself is not a painful condition but can cause discomfort and visual problems.

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