A pterygium is a common, elevated, wedge-shaped growth on the cornea (the clear front window of the eye). Although they are benign (non-cancerous) growths, they can continue to grow across the cornea. They are caused by UV exposure from the sun, particularly UV light from the side, and this damage can accumulate from childhood. For this reason, a hat and wrap-around UV-blocking sunglasses are recommended when outside.
Pterygia can become intermittently red and irritated, and may cause concern about appearance. As pterygia grow, they can cause distortion of the cornea leading to astigmatism, which degrades vision. If pterygia grow across the pupil, they can block vision.
Some pterygia can be managed without surgery, but many patients with pterygia will eventually require surgery to remove it. Pterygium surgery is usually done as a day surgery procedure in hospital, with local anaesthetic and sedation.
Exposure of the eyes to UV light from the sun increases the risk of developing conditions such as pterygium and a related condition called pinguecula. UV exposure is also a major risk factor for development of skin cancers affecting the eyelids, which are difficult to protect well with sunscreen. In addition, UV light is a significant contributor to the development of a certain type of cataract (cortical cataract). Wrap-around UV-blocking sunglasses and a hat are important for protecting against these common eye diseases, and this protection should start during childhood.