A pterygium is an elevated, wing-shaped eye growth that begins on the clear mucous membrane (conjunctiva) that covers the white portion of the eye. This condition can also invade the cornea, which is the clear portion of the eye that is located directly in front of the eyeball. When there is more than one growth, the plural form is called pterygia, which is also known as "surfer's eye." This condition most commonly develops in people who are habitually exposed to direct sunlight, wind, or dust/sand. All three of these environmental elements are prevalent at the beach and when out on the open water, the sun's UV rays can be amplified when reflected on the ocean's surface. At Stone Oak Ophthalmology Center in San Antonio, TX, board-certified ophthalmologists Drs. Allison Young, Kristin Held, and Teresa Whitney are well-versed in the diagnosis and treatment of pterygium.
The most common signs and symptoms associated with pterygium include dry eye, itchiness, burning, or the feeling that something is "in" the eye (foreign body sensation). Pterygium can also become severely inflamed resulting in the appearance of a red eye. If the growth develops over the cornea, it can alter the front surface of the eye, which can result in astigmatism or higher-order aberrations (HOAs). These irregularities can dramatically affect one's vision, making it difficult to see at night, understanding the depth of field, and can cause halos or double-vision.
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is considered the primary cause of pterygium, but other factors, such as wind, dust, sand, pollen, and smoke, can contribute to this condition as well. Routine exposure to any one of these elements, especially sunlight, is key in developing an abnormal eye growth, which is why we recommend that patients take precautions, such as wearing sunglasses and hats, to protect their eyes. Having light eyes may also increase one's risk of developing pterygium.
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Although a pterygium is visible with the naked eye, a thorough examination will be conducted to confirm your diagnosis. This is achieved with the use of a slit lamp. The lamp enables our team to study the eye under magnification and bright lighting. A few additional tests may also be performed, such as a visual acuity test and corneal topography, which measures the curvature changes of the cornea. Digital images may be taken to help monitor the growth rate of the pterygium.
Pterygium Treatment Options
Once the initial tests are concluded, our ophthalmology team can create a tailored treatment plan to help improve your condition. Typically, treatment with artificial tears or the short-term use of steroid eye drops is all that is needed to improve this condition. However, in cases when a pterygium has grown too far over the cornea, resulting in impaired vision or astigmatism, surgery may be necessary.
During surgery, we will remove the pterygium and then use a tissue graft that is taken from the patient's own conjunctiva to correct the defect that is left behind when the growth is removed. This specific graft is known as an autograft, which helps significantly reduce the risk of recurrence. On average, recurrence with this method is less than 10%.
In addition, our surgical team utilizes modern tissue adhesive called Tisseel® to secure the conjunctival graft in place instead of a traditional dissolvable stitch. This technique is known as the "gold standard" of care for all eye surgeons because it aids in reducing recovery time and is more comfortable for the patient. An additional bonus of this "non-stitch" method is that it also helps reduce the rate of recurrence, making it less than 5%.
Be Clear of Your Pterygium
If you suspect an abnormal growth is developing in your eye or are experiencing impaired vision or the feeling like something is in your eye, call Stone Oak Ophthalmology Center in San Antonio, TX. We will be happy to schedule you an appointment at your earliest convenience so you can see one of our seasoned ophthalmologists to get the treatment and relief you need.