Navigate Up

Full Library - A-Z Index


Print This Page

Pterygium

A pterygium is a non-cancerous growth that starts in the of the clear, thin tissue (conjunctiva ) of the eye. This growth covers the white part of the eye (sclera) and extends onto the cornea. It is often slightly raised and contains visible blood vessels. The problem may occur on one or both eyes.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The exact cause is unknown. It is more common in people who have a lot of exposure to sunlight and wind, such as people 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 that has blood vessels on the inner or outer edge of the cornea.  Sometimes the pterygium has no symptoms. However, it may become inflamed and cause burning, irritation, or a feeling like there's something foreign in the eye. Vision may be affected if the grows extends far enough onto the cornea.

Signs and tests

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

Treatment

Treatment is usually not needed. Using artificial tears to keep the eyes moist may help prevent a pterygium from becoming inflamed. Mild steroid eye drop can be used to calm inflammation if it occurs. Surgery can be used to remove the growth for cosmetic reasons or if it block vision.

Expectations (prognosis)

Most pterygia cause no problems and do not need treatment. If a pterygium affects the cornea, removing it can have good results. 

Complications

Ongoing inflammation can cause a pterygium to grow farther onto the cornea. 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

Taking steps to protect the eyes from ultraviolet light such as wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim 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.

Naidu SS, Ocampo-Goldberg AC. Corneal Topography. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Foundations of Clinical Ophthalmology. 2012 ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2012:vol 2; chap 112.

Updated: 11/20/2012

Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc., Editorial Team: David Zieve, MD, MHA, David R. Eltz, Stephanie Slon, and Nissi Wang.


©  UPMC | Affiliated with the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences
Supplemental content provided by A.D.A.M. Health Solutions. All rights reserved.

For help in finding a doctor or health service that suits your needs, call the UPMC Referral Service at 412-647-UPMC (8762) or 1-800-533-UPMC (8762). Select option 1.

UPMC is an equal opportunity employer. UPMC policy prohibits discrimination or harassment on the basis of race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, age, sex, genetics, sexual orientation, marital status, familial status, disability, veteran status, or any other legally protected group status. Further, UPMC will continue to support and promote equal employment opportunity, human dignity, and racial, ethnic, and cultural diversity. This policy applies to admissions, employment, and access to and treatment in UPMC programs and activities. This commitment is made by UPMC in accordance with federal, state, and/or local laws and regulations.

Medical information made available on UPMC.com is not intended to be used as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. You should not rely entirely on this information for your health care needs. Ask your own doctor or health care provider any specific medical questions that you have. Further, UPMC.com is not a tool to be used in the case of an emergency. If an emergency arises, you should seek appropriate emergency medical services.

For UPMC Mercy Patients: As a Catholic hospital, UPMC Mercy abides by the Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, as determined by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. As such, UPMC Mercy neither endorses nor provides medical practices and/or procedures that contradict the moral teachings of the Roman Catholic Church.

© UPMC
Pittsburgh, PA, USA UPMC.com