What is a pterygium?
A pterygium (from the Greek word for “wing”) is an abnormal growth of tissue that extends from the conjunctiva (a membrane that covers the white of the eye) onto the cornea. Typically, a pterygium presents as a pinkish, triangular tissue that generally grows slowly, but in some cases may become so large it covers the pupil. Smaller pterygia can cause dryness, redness, burning, itching and/or an unacceptable cosmetic appearance. Larger pterygia can cause blurred vision by altering the shape of the cornea, or producing astigmatism. Pterygia are more common in areas of the world nearest the equator. They are associated with early exposure to the sun, especially during childhood and teen years.
What is a pinguecula?
A pterygium may be confused with a pingueculum. A pingueculum looks like a yellowish patch or bump on the white surface (sclera) of the eye. It grows on the conjunctiva, similar to a pterygium, but does not grow over the cornea. A pingueculum is a benign degeneration of the conjunctiva. It is caused by damage from exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun.
How are pterygium and pingueculas treated?
Most pterygia are treated with artificial tear drops that relieve irritation and burning. Anti-allergy drops or even anti-inflammatory drops may be used for more significant symptoms. If vision is affected or if the pterygia becomes enlarged, surgical removal may be necessary. To prevent regrowth of the pterygium (which can be a late complication), surgeons may transplant conjunctiva from another part of the eye to the area where the pterygium was removed, as well as use anti-metabolite drugs or apply radiation to the area. Pinguecula, on the other hand, are usually asymptomatic and may be treated conservatively with artificial tears and anti-inflammatory drops. Rarely do they require surgery.