A pterygium (pronounced te-ri-gi-um) is an overgrowth of usually clear tissue (conjunctiva) from the white region of the eye onto the cornea.  It usually occurs on the nasal side of the eye, and most commonly presents in patients in their twenties and thirties, although they can occur in teenagers.  Many patients confuse pterygia with cataracts; however a cataract is the lens inside the eye just behind the iris going cloudy, whereas a pterygium grows across the surface of the eye. A pterygium can upset the surface tear film causing irritation, redness and tearing. The other risk with a pterygium is that it may interfere with vision by distorting the cornea, or growing far enough over the cornea so it blocks vision. If necessary, a pterygium can be surgically removed (well before it blocks vision), and generally the earlier this is done the easier and more successful the operation.


One of the most important risk factors for pterygium development is high levels of sun exposure (UV radiation), particularly early in life.  For this reason, it is important that eyes are protected from excess sunlight through the use of sunglasses (slip, slop slap, sunnies, hat & shade) from an early age and throughout adult life.


It is important that any pterygium is examined regularly in order to monitor any changes, as although a pterygium is a benign growth it could be mistaken for an early malignant growth. Your optometrist or general practitioner can monitor any pterygium and refer you on to an eye surgeon for assessment and removal if required.


Example of a Pterygium

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