A pterygium is a triangular shaped fibrous growth of tissue that begins on the conjunctiva and overlaps a portion of the cornea. A pterygium most often begins as a pinguecula, an elevated, yellowish-white deposit of collagen tissue underlying the surface of the conjunctiva. Fine blood vessels are visible within the pterygium, resulting in a pink appearance to the growth.
The most common cause of pterygium is chronic sun and wind exposure and is most prevalent in those who have lived close to the equator or who work outdoors.
While often asymptomatic, some patients with pterygium may notice redness of the eyes, or be concerned by the physical appearance of the pterygium. Patients with an elevated pterygium may notice a gritty sensation if the surface does not remain coated by the tear film. In severe cases, the pterygium may grow into the center of the cornea and interfere with vision. A pterygium may inhibit contact lens wear.
In most cases, the only treatment necessary is lubrication with artificial tears to prevent drying out of the elevated surface of the pterygium. Occasionally, the pterygium may become inflamed, and a topical vasoconstrictor or steroid may be indicated. In severe cases, where vision is affected, the pterygium may be surgically removed; however recurrence of pterygium may occur.