What is a pterygium?
A pterygium is an overgrowth of tissue from the white of the eye onto the cornea (“crystal window” of the eye). It usually develops on the eye’s inner corner; however, it can occasionally occur on the outer corner, or both sides of the eye simultaneously.
While the condition is non-cancerous, a pterygium can permanently disfigure the eye, cause irritation or discomfort, and affect vision. If this is the case, treatment should be sought.
This condition is relatively common, with estimates that up to 10 percent of Queenslanders will develop a pterygium at some point in their lives.
What are the symptoms of a pterygium?
Most patients have no symptoms from a pterygium, except that they may be aware that there is a small piece of reddish and fleshy tissue growing from the corner of the eye.
If symptoms of a pterygium do develop, these may include:
- Inflammation and redness
- Itching, burning and irritation
- Foreign-body sensation
In some cases, a pterygium can show ongoing growth across the cornea, causing blurring of vision or reduction in vision.
Causes of pterygium
While all the factors that contribute to the development of a pterygium are not fully known, UV light (sunlight) exposure is the primary cause. In particular, people who frequently spend time outdoors in windy and sunny conditions are especially prone to pterygia. Pterygium is far more common amongst people who spend a lot of time outdoors and those who live in hot, sunny environments, such as Queensland. Long-term exposure to dusty or sandy environments is also considered to contribute to the development of a pterygium.
In addition, people with light skin and eyes are at an increased risk of developing a pterygium.
Minimising UV light exposure is the primary means of preventing development of a pterygium. When outdoors, you should aim to wear good-quality sunglasses that meet the Australian Standard. Wearing a wide-brimmed hat when outdoors will also help protect your eyes from both sun and wind exposure.
Diagnosis of a pterygium
Diagnosis of a pterygium is typically straightforward – your optometrist or ophthalmologist may examine your eye with a slit lamp in order to confirm the diagnosis, without the need for additional special tests.
If you believe that you may have a pterygium, an assessment with your optometrist or ophthalmologist will confirm the diagnosis and determine what treatment may be required.
Patients may opt to have their pterygium removed for a number of reasons. This may be because they have a large pterygium that threatens the central cornea, they experience prolonged irritation, or they simply find the condition cosmetically unappealing.
In cases of minor irritation, treatment may involve the use of eye drops or ointment to lubricate and soothe the area. You may be prescribed a course of steroid eye drops for more severe inflammation. However, these medications are designed only to ease symptoms and are not a cure for pterygium.
If a pterygium’s growth is significant, continues to spread across the eye or begins to cause vision problems, surgical removal of a pterygium is usually recommended.
Why P.E.R.F.E.C.T. for PTERYGIUM (R)?
Simplified approaches to pterygium removal are associated with high rates of recurrence – once a pterygium recurs, subsequent removals may be far more problematic than the original removal. This is the principal reason why Dr Pappalardo uses the P.E.R.F.E.C.T. for PTERYGIUM® surgical method. This technique involves carefully removing the pterygium using an extended resection technique, and repairing the area with a large graft using conjunctiva taken from another place on the eye’s surface. This method reduces the recurrence rate to less than one percent (1 in 1000).
As well as reducing the chance of a pterygium recurring, the use of the P.E.R.F.E.C.T. technique aims to reconstruct the surface of the eye in a way that provides a cosmetically pleasing result.
Get in touch to see Dr Juanita Pappalardo
Dr Pappalardo has undertaken thorough training alongside Professor Lawrence Hirst, the pioneer of the P.E.R.F.E.C.T. for PTERYGIUM® procedure and an international expert in pterygium. She is one of only a handful of ophthalmologists in Australia (and indeed worldwide) who have been trained in the meticulous assessment and surgical management of pterygium with the P.E.R.F.E.C.T. for PTERYGIUM® technique. If you suspect that you have a pterygium, get in touch to plan your visit with Dr Pappalardo.