Pterygium is a benign, wing-shaped growth (pterygos means wing in Greek) made up of blood vessels and fibrous tissue that extends from the white area of the eye to the cornea. Pterygium originates on the nasal or temporal conjunctiva, the transparent membrane that covers the sclera. However, it appears more frequently on the nasal side. Some pterygia remain small and asymptomatic, while others may grow significantly and cause visual problems. Visual symptoms include irritation, light sensitivity, tearing, and blurriness.

What causes pterygium?

There are numerous theories about the causes of pterygium, but all of them remain uncertain. Nevertheless, its higher prevalence in geographical areas closer to the equator have led the medical community to conclude that the origin is closely related to hot climates and UV radiation. Pterygium is more frequent in individuals who work outdoors or practice certain sports such as surfing. Hot and dry conditions are likely risk factors in the formation of pterygium or its exacerbation.

What is the best treatment for pterygium?

Management of pterygium starts with prevention. Wearing sunglasses to protect the eyes from UV radiation is crucial. Medical treatment is necessary when irritation and conjunctival redness are present. Anti-inflammatory ophthalmic drops are commonly prescribed by eye doctors to treat these symptoms. Artificial tears may be used to keep the cornea lubricated and curb the inflammation.

Pterygium that becomes highly symptomatic and encroaches on the cornea should be managed surgically. The most accepted technique involves removing the pterygium and harvesting a conjunctival autograft which is sutured to the recipient bed. The graft helps to prevent pterygium recurrence, the main challenge in its management.

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