A pterygium is an overgrowth of part of the normal covering layer of the eye (the conjunctiva) growing beyond its normal boundary. It can give rise to a number of symptoms:
1. discomfort - the pterygium may be raised and cause a gritty, foreign body feeling
2. redness of the eye which varies in intensity but may never disappear completely
3. a whitish patch growing onto the cornea (the clear window of the eye) which may get larger over time
4. reduction in vision by altering the shape of the cornea slightly and inducing astigmatism, or eventually growing across the line of sight
Symptoms of grittiness or foreign body discomfort may be helped with regular use of a good quality tear supplement.
If the pterygium is frequently red and inflamed then anti-inflammatory or steroid eye drops may help.
If this is not successful in controlling discomfort, or the pterygium is unsightly or affecting eyesight then surgery may be helpful.
The surgery is usually carried out as a day-case procedure under local anaesthetic.
The pterygium is removed, taking care to remove all abnormal tissue to reduce the risk of recurrence. This leaves a small bare area on the white of the eye (sclera).
To further reduce the risk of recurrence and help the eye to heal, this area is covered with a patch of healthy conjunctiva taken from above the cornea, under the upper eyelid (an autograft). The donor site soon heals.
The patch is secured, usually with a special glue, but sometimes also with sutures. If sutures are needed, they will dissolve with time. A contact lens may be placed on the eye for comfort and a course of eye drops is prescribed to help the eye heal.