What is a Pterygium?
A pterygium (from two Greek words, pteryx, meaning wing and pterygion, meaning fin) is a growth of blood vessels and scar tissue in the conjunctiva on the surface of the eye.
Pterygium is pronounced 'tur-IJ-ee-um' and is a hard word to google because the spelling is not intuitive to the English language. I have come across 'pterigium', terigium, 'ptergium' and my personal favourite, 'pterigiyum'.
However you spell or say it, a pterygium looks like a wing or fin growing across the front of the eye. It grows in response to damage from sun, wind, heat, dryness and other conditions that can damage the ocular surface.
If the damage continues, the response itself can cause further damage. The pterygium can become raised, red and irritated. Then the surface dries out, the lid rubs on it when you blink, and it can become sore and inflamed, causing further irritation and growth.
At first, only the appearance and irritation cause concern. If the pterygium continues to grow, it can distort the surface shape of the eye, causing astigmatism and blurring of vision, and ultimately it can grow across the cornea, covering the pupil and blocking the vision by preventing light from entering the eye.
How can I treat my pterygium?
In the early stages, the use of wraparound sunglasses which protect the eye from the sun and wind can reduce further damage and relieve irritation and light-sensitivity.
Preservative-free tear drops, used every night and regularly through the day can lubricate the surface of the eye and help to treat the damaged ocular surface. With time, the surface tissue may regenerate and heal, restoring the tear film, flattening out the pterygium, reducing irritation and preventing further growth.
Tears Again spray may also help, by coating the surface of the eye with a fatty layer and by reducing inflammation.
Ocular antioxidants taken internally may also be of benefit. Bilberry may reduce inflammation and lutein, zeaxanthin and astaxanthin are great for the eyes. Vitamins A, C and E and the minerals zinc and selenium may also be of particular help.
When should I have pterygium surgery?
It is important to have your pterygium checked regularly, to see if it needs to be surgically removed. If the pterygium continues to grow, causing an unsightly appearance, irritation, inflammation or affecting vision, surgery may be undertaken to remove it.
We perform the operation as day surgery in hospital, using 'twilight anaesthesia' which is sedation with local anaesthetic. We remove the pterygium and replace the defect with a graft of healthy conjunctiva, or ocular surface tissue, from the same eye, stitched in place with tiny sutures. This assists in healing and reduces the risk of regrowth. We place a contact lens on the eye at the end of the procedure, which means there is minimal pain after the surgery and the corneal surface heals faster.
Anne sees you the day after the surgery to remove the contact lens and a week later to remove the sutures, which may otherwise cause irritation. You use drops from the time of surgery for at least a month. She then sees you a month after surgery to make sure all the inflammation has settled and to see whether you need to continue using the drops.
The risks of surgery are small, but include infection, haemorrhage, loss of the graft and regrowth of the pterygium. To minimise these risks, it is important that you care for yourself after the surgery. You will need to put drops in your eye for at least a month, and sometimes more. You need to keep the eye clean and free of all the conditions that can aggravate pterygium – sun, wind, salt water, dirt, dry heat – for the first few weeks, or there is a risk it can regrow, and any regrowth can be worse than the original pterygium.
If you care for yourself, the results are great, and your eyes look clear and feel comfortable again.
Please Contact the Clinic if you would like to know more.