A pterygium is a wedge-shaped piece of tissue that grows from the white part of the eye (the conjunctiva) onto the transparent surface of the eye (cornea). It typically starts growing on the side of the eye next to the nose, but it can also occur on the other side. It usually grows very slowly and but can also stop growing. A pterygium usually develops in someone who has been exposed to a lot of sunlight though exposure to wind and dust are also thought to contribute.

The procedure

The pterygium is surgically removed from the cornea under local anaesthetic. The cornea underneath the pterygium is smoothed as much as possible. Sometimes the pterygium has caused permanent scarring of the cornea. Usually this does not affect vision as it is so far from the visual axis. Any scar tissue at the edges of where the pterygium sat is also removed. Then a small piece of conjunctiva (autograft) is lifted from the eyeball from under the upper eyelid and moved across the eye to cover the gap left by the excised pterygium. The piece of conjunctiva is either sutured or glued into place.

Post-op care

There are no restrictions regarding running, aerobics or gymnasium after surgery. Eye make-up can be used after surgery. Try not to get water or shampoo in your eyes in the shower or when washing your face (dab very gently with towel if you do). You should not swim in chlorinated water for the first week. Wear goggles when swimming thereafter.

You may resume driving once you read a number plate at 20 metres. Usually this is the case after the first few days. If you are in any doubt, Mr Wilkins will check that your vision is at the driving standard. Driving with good vision in only one eye is legal, but you should obviously exercise caution until you feel confident and drive short distances by day in familiar surroundings.

Am I suitable?

A pterygium is usually removed if:

  • It causes discomfort, affects vision, or is interfering with contact lens wear.
  • It is adversely affecting the intraocular lens measurements for cataract surgery.
  • It is affecting the patient’s appearance.

If it is small and causing no or minor symptoms, a pterygium can be left alone. It should be reviewed if it appears to be getting larger.