A pterygium (pronounced te-ri-gi-um, plural: pterygia) is fleshy tissue that grows in a triangular shape over the cornea. It most commonly occurs on the inner corner of the eye but can also appear on the outer corner, and it may grow large enough to interfere with vision.

Commonly asked questions

What causes pterygium?

The main cause of pterygia is exposure to ultraviolet radiation. Environmental conditions experienced in hot and dry climates may exacerbate the problem. Although anyone can develop a pterygium, they are more common in hotter climates and among people such as farmers and surfers who spend a lot of time outdoors.

Are pterygia dangerous?

A pterygium is not a cancer; and people also sometimes confuse pterygia with cataracts.

Pterygia are not dangerous but they can look unsightly, cause discomfort and impede vision. If the pterygium grows onto the central part of the cornea, it can stretch and distort the cornea or begin to block light from entering the eye.

Although a pterygium is not dangerous, it should be checked to make sure that it isn’t something more serious. If you have any area of tissue on or around the eyes that changes rapidly, you should visit your optometrist immediately.

How can pterygia be treated?

In cases where the pterygium is not actively growing onto the cornea, protecting the eyes from ultraviolet light will often stabilise its growth. Sometimes, pterygia become red and irritated. When this occurs, eye drops or ointments may soothe the inflammation. Your optometrist can suggest an appropriate product to use.

If a pterygium begins to grow onto the cornea and threatens to distort vision, surgical removal is required. Fortunately, this is relatively minor surgery that is usually performed under a local anaesthetic.

How can pterygia be prevented?

The best way to reduce your risk of developing a pterygium is to protect your eyes from ultraviolet light. It is important to have a closely fitting or wraparound pair of sunglasses (or a classic style with thicker arms) to prevent UV exposure from the side of the eye. UV radiation can also cause cataracts and other eye diseases, as well as skin cancers, so reducing exposure is wise.