By: Vishal Patel
A pterygium is a benign, wedge-shaped growth that develops on the conjunctiva or the mucous membrane that covers the white part of the eye. Pterygia usually occur in people aged 20 to 50, and are more common in men. The higher incidence in men is likely attributed to their association with outdoor work and dirty, dusty environments more so than women. Pterygia usually don’t cause problems or require treatment, however in some cases, they can extend on to the cornea, the transparent front part of the eye. This may interfere with vision and may require surgical removal.
There are variable symptoms associated with pterygium growth. Many people can feel as if there is something in their eye. Other symptoms also include dry eyes, irritation, inflammation and redness. They can also make it more difficult or uncomfortable to wear contact lenses.
Most symptoms can easily be managed via topical lubricants or steroids.
The exact cause of pterygia isn’t known. The most common link to their growth and progression is too much exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light. They occur more often in people who live in warm climates and spend a lot of time outdoors in sunny or windy environments. For example, sailors and skiers tend to have a high incidence of pterygia, because of the high levels of reflected UV light they encounter. People whose eyes are exposed to elements like pollen, dirt, smoke or wind on a regular basis also have a higher risk of developing this condition.
There are certain steps one can take to prevent the development or progression of pterygia. If possible, avoid exposure to environmental factors that can cause pterygia. Wearing sunglasses or a hat to shield your eyes from sunlight, wind, and dust while spending excessive time outdoors is very beneficial. Your sunglasses should also provide protection from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. If you already have a pterygium, limiting your exposure to wind, dust, pollen, smoke, and sunlight can slow its growth. It can also help prevent them from coming back if you’ve had previous pterygium removal.