Woman sitting in the sun

Have you ever noticed a long pink bump developing in the corner of your eye? You may have a pterygium. But what is pterygium? In order to inform people affected by this common eye condition, we’ve answered a few questions frequently asked about it as well as give you tips on how to get rid of pterygium if you happen to have it already.

What is a Pterygium?

A pterygium, also commonly known as surfer’s eye, is an eye condition that appears to be a wedge-shaped elevation in the corner of the eye. The growth also has a pink or reddish tint, making it highly visible. A pterygium is benign, meaning it is non-cancerous, but it can permanently reshape your eye and lead to discomfort and vision problems. Pterygium is caused by an overexposure to the sun. It’s dubbed the name “surfer’s eye” because it is typically found in people who spend long hours around water, which can reflect the ultraviolet light.

What Causes a Pterygium?

As mentioned, overexposure to the sun’s UV rays is the main cause of pterygia. However, this eye condition has also been linked to dry eye disease, which can be caused by excessive dust and wind. Typically, pterygium affects people over the age of 30 and are rarely found in children. People with lighter skin are also more likely to develop the eye condition.

What are the Symptoms?

A pterygium typically develops on the side of the eye closest to the nose. Over time, it can begin to spread and distort the cornea. In less severe cases, individuals may only experience mild symptoms, including itchiness and redness. As the condition worsens, the pterygia can become inflamed. Individuals who suffer from advanced pterygia may experience burning sensations and a gritty feeling in their eyes. If the condition invades the cornea, the shape of the eye will begin to be distorted which can lead to astigmatism and higher-order aberration that can greatly impact vision. If you experience any of these signs or symptoms, we highly recommend reaching out to a knowledgeable eye doctor near you to receive a thorough evaluation.

How to Get Rid of Pterygium

Due to the size of a particular pterygium, treatments may vary. Also, its symptoms and causes may affect the treatment needed as well. If the pterygium is small, doctors may prescribe eye lubricants and/or steroid eye drops to prevent inflammation. For dry eyes, cyclosporine may be prescribed to keep the affected eye well lubricated. Surgical options may be required in more severe cases. If required, there are numerous surgical options available. Perhaps the most popular procedure is pterygium excision, which can be performed in a doctor’s office or operating room. The procedure typically takes around 30 minutes. The patient will then be required to wear an eyepatch for a couple days and most people are able to return to work the very next day. In order to receive the best care possible, we highly recommend talking to an expert ophthalmologist to determine which treatment or procedure is best for you.

How to Prevent Pterygium

In order to keep your eyes from developing pterygia, we recommend being mindful of how much time you spend in direct sunlight. Also, wearing sunglasses can reduce the risk of complications. More specifically, wrap-around sunglasses seem to work the best since they protect your eyes from every angle against ultraviolet light. Regularly applying eye ointments can also keep your eyes from drying out and developing pterygia. In some cases, pterygia may return after surgical removal due to UV light and/or oxidative stress. In fact, the rate of recurrence is nearly 40 percent. In order to prevent recurrence, some eye doctors may suture a small amount of eye tissue to the affected area. Commonly known as autologous conjunctival autografting, this procedure has been proven to greatly reduce the chances of recurrence. And, of course, check the condition of your eyes regularly and talk to an eye doctor if you begin to experience symptoms of pterygia growth.

Can You Wear Contact Lenses If You Have a Pterygium?

In some cases, contact lenses are prescribed to keep the affected eyes from drying out and reduce exposure to UV rays. However, every pterygium condition can be drastically different and patients should talk to an eye doctor to determine whether or not they can wear contact lenses. Regular visits may then be required to monitor the shape of the cornea. If the pterygium continues to progress, the patient may be asked to discontinue wearing contact lenses. Keep in mind, pterygia may also lead to advanced levels of astigmatism, which can also affect your prescription moving forward.