A pterygium (pronounced ter-ig-e-um) is a growth of tissue found growing from the conjunctiva (white part of the eye) across the cornea (the clear part of the eye). They can occur from either side of the eye but typically from the nasal side. Pterygium are usually pink/red in colour due to the tissue and blood vessels. They are not to be confused with the very common, pinguecula (pronounced ping-gwek-you-lah) which are a small, yellowish raised bump on the white part of the eye which again can occur on either side.
The occurrence of pterygium and pinguecula is associated with ultraviolet exposure, so those who have spent plenty of time outdoors, like farmers or surfers, are more at risk. However, they can happen to anyone, especially in Queensland where we experience bright hot days and plenty of sun. Given enough years, you’re likely to have either of them.
Pterygium and pinguecula are harmless and benign and not to be confused with cancerous growth. However, it’s important to have them inspected and monitored to make sure it is not anything more serious. As a pterygium continues to grow across the eye over time, it causes distortions which can cause blurred vision or a reduction in sharpness of your vision. If it continues to grow, it can eventually block out vision through the pupil.
Furthermore, pterygium or pinguecula can become raised and bumpy which cause a gritty, dry or irritated feeling – almost like there is something in your eye. Sometimes the eye can become redder too, usually in cases where there has been excessive exposure to sunlight, wind, dust or dry conditions, which are all pretty typical in Queensland. It’s always recommended to see your local optometrist as they may have suggestions on reducing the severity of the symptoms with certain lubricant or anti-inflammatory eye drops.
The best treatment is prevention, so it’s important to have good sun protection when outdoors by using a wide-brimmed hat and a good pair of wraparound sunglasses. This would ensure you’re protected from the elements and reduce the likelihood of the condition worsening. Pterygium can be surgically removed if they are large, cause significant visual impairment, significant irritation, or even for cosmetic purposes.