Centre For Sight Africa What to know about PTERYGIUM By Dr. Ehimare Enaholo

What to know about ‘PTERYGIUM’ By Dr. Ehimare Enaholo S.


The human eye is a relatively small but complex organ. It is made up of specialized structures within, without and all over its surface; each of which has a specific anatomy (form) serves its own functions. Eye disorders result from abnormal changes  in form and function of such eye structures. A pterygium is one of such eye disorders; it is a disorder which involves the outermost clear covering structures of the eye (the conjunctiva and cornea).

Now what exactly is a Pterygium?

In the course of clinical practice, eyecare professionals learn about various myths patients carry concerning the state of their eyes. Pterygium is no different in this regard, as some patient even refer to it as ‘cataract’ (go here to read up a previous article on cataract); however, a pterygium is neither “cataract” nor a cancer.

The word ‘pterygium’  is coined from Greek: pterygos, which means ‘little wing’. A pterygium is an abnormal, progressive triangular and wing-shaped (hence the name little wing) growth which develops on the normal conjunctiva and eventually extends to the cornea (hence the word “progressive). Under normal conditions, a clear boundary (known as the limbus) exists between the cornea and conjunctiva. However, when there is a pterygium, part of the conjunctiva becomes abnormally thickened and encroaches beyond its boundary at the limbus.

The extent to which a pterygium encroaches on the cornea depends on the stage of disease. The growth often develops close the edge of the cornea (at the margin of the limbus) in early stages. While in advanced stages, the growth extends onward and close to areas of cornea in front of the pupil; consequently impeding one’s line of sight more and more.

What are the possible causes of pterygium..

The condition is generally attributed to environmental factors. There is a link between the growth of pterygium and long-term exposure of the eyes (in particular) to UV radiation (which is emitted by the sun). Thus, individuals who spend extended periods outdoors (exposed to sunlight radiation) are more likely to develop pterygium. Living in temperate and less humid regions also predisposes one to the growth of pterygium, due to prolonged irritation of the eye’s surface structures. High exposure of the conjunctiva to irritants in the environment such as dust, smoke etc, can also be precipitate the growth of pterygium.

What are the signs and symptoms of pterygium..

If present, a pterygium can often be noticed after assessing at the front surface of the eye closely. Occasionally, there may also be redness, when pterygium gets inflamed.

Common symptoms include;

Sensation of dryness, burning from the eyes: This is often as a result of incomplete wetting of the cornea by tears (Areas encroached by pterygium cannot be wetted properly).

Blurry vision: When the growth starts to alter the cornea’s regular shape, affecting one’s ability to see clearly.

Double vision.

Poor vision: Often when the growth enters one’s line of sight.

..and the treatment options?

If you have a growth on the surface of your eyes which you are worried about, don’t hesitate to visit a specialist eye hospital as soon as possible.

As far as treatment options go, eye drops may be prescribed by your eye health professional to ease discomfort or consequent redness of the eyes due to pterygium. Glasses with special coatings which block out the sun’s harmful rays can also be prescribed to control the progress of pterygium.

However, medications would neither remove a pterygium nor cause its growth to recede. The more definite solution can be gained when pterygium is excised (removed) surgically. There are a number of surgical techniques which can be used to get rid of pterygium; however, other methods apart from one carry an increased risk of recurrence (re-growth) of pterygium following excision. This is known as the conjunctival autograft technique.

What are the common indications for pterygium excision?

 The common indications for pterygium removal include;

An advanced growth which completely or partially covers a person’s vision/ line of sight.

Visual disturbances, as pterygium alters the natural shape of the cornea.

Frequent redness.

Cosmetic appeal: Many people simply do not like the appearance of their eyes with pterygium.

In conclusion, pterygium is not a cancerous growth; hence, it is not an ominous sign of illness or poor general health. However, it should not be ignored long-term as this can lead to visual complications when it encroaches on one’s line of sight.

At the CENTRE FOR SIGHT AFRICA, our skilled surgeons are available to carry out your pterygium excision using the reliable conjunctival autograft technique.                       

Therefore, book an appointment with us today.

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