A pterygium is a slow, benign growth of the eye's outer membrane onto the cornea, forming a triangular lump of tissue. In more advanced cases it can interfere with vision. It is a common eye condition in Australia and is associated with accumulated harmful exposure to the sun and ultraviolet light, such as people who spent a lot of time playing or working outdoors without sunglasses or hats.
We can monitor the growth or change in size of a pterygium by taking photos of the front of your eyes with our slitlamp camera periodically. Most cases do not progress to the point of requiring surgery, but if a pterygium grows more than about halfway towards the pupil it may start to distort vision, cause astigmatism and increase glare issues, as well as being cosmetically unsightly. For these cases we can refer you to a corneal specialist (ophthalmologist) for assessment. Treatment involves surgically removing the pterygium and preventing recurrence.
A similar, and more common, condition is called a pinguecula ('yellow spot on eye'), which is also related to UV exposure. A pinguecula is a yellowish, mildly raised thickening of the conjunctiva membrane that surrounds the white part of the eye, close to the edge of the cornea, typically on the side closer to the nose, but can also be found on the outer side. These are benign, non-cancerous bumps that require no surgical intervention. Occasionally a pinguecula may become inflammed (increased redness and irritation in the area — 'pingueculitis') especially if the eyes are dry or exposed to dust and wind — we can treat this redness with topical eye lubricants or anti-inflammatory steroid eye drops if required.
The best way of preventing pterygium and pinguecula is to protect your eyes and your children's eyes from UV. Always wear a good pair of sunglasses or UV-coated lenses when you are outdoors, or have Transitions lenses that automatically adapt to the sun while giving you 100% UV protection at all times.
Left: Pterygium (growth extending over the cornea) vs Right: Pinguecula (yellow bump stays on the white part of the eye)