A pterygium is a fleshy growth on the conjunctiva, the membrane that covers the white or sclera part of the eye. It forms usually in the corner of the eye close to the nose and grows towards the pupil. Normally it grows slowly and if not treated it eventually may cover the pupil, hindering vision.
The actual cause of the pterygium is not known, but usually is found in sunny climates, such as Cyprus. It often appears in people who are exposed to the sun for many hours and have eye irritations due to the dry and dusty environment. It is best to avoid exposure to Ultra Violet light, wear sunglasses, a hat and use eye drops to moisten and cleanse the eye.
The pterygium may not cause any symptoms, but will affect aesthetically the appearance of the eye. Sometimes it may cause a feeling of dryness especially when inflamed. The vision is not only affected by the pterygium growing over the pupil, but also by the astigmatism caused by the distortion of the cornea.
The asymptomatic pterygium can be left untreated. Special eye drops can be used for the irritation. Surgery may be necessary for diminished vision and also for cosmetic reasons.
The surgical removal of the pterygium can be done under local anaesthetic and the patient can go home the same day. The older technique of simple removal of the pterygium had a 70% chance of reappearance. The new method which involves removal of the pterygium, use of an auto graft and administration of anti-metabolic medications, decreases the risk of reappearance to less than 5%.
The surgical procedure is usually performed under local anaesthetic inserted by a cannula around the eye in order to numb the area. The patient feels no pain during the operation, only the hands of the surgeon on his forehead. The fleshy part of the pterygium is removed and the exposed area is covered by a piece of conjunctival tissue, taken from the same eye and stitched to the white of the eye (sclera). There is a 95% success rate with this new method. Special clear plastic glasses are worn postoperatively to shield and protect the eye.
The patient goes home the same day. It is common postoperatively for the eye to be a little red, sting and have blurred vision for a few days, but the patient will be given eyes drops to alleviate these symptoms. The stitches used for this operation are absorbed in a few weeks.