A pterygium is a wing-shaped, vascular, fleshy benign growth of vessels on the conjunctiva (the thin covering on the white part of the eye). Although they are not harmful, they can cause issues with vision, irritation and appearance. They may at times be confused with other problems such as pink eye or tumors.

If a pterygium grows into the cornea, the clear, outer layer of the eye, it can distort the shape of the cornea causing a condition called astigmatism or lead to corneal scarring. Pterygium lesions usually grow slowly throughout a person’s life, although in many cases they can simply stop growing after a certain point. If the lesions encroach on the visual axis (begin to cover the pupil of the eye) they can interfere with vision-at which point treatment such as surgery is advised.


Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light definitely plays a role in a pterygium forming. The increased prevalence of pterygium among people in equatorial regions has lead to theories that pterygium may be due to the damaging effects of ultraviolet radiation-specifically UV-B radiation. The combination of sun exposure, dryness, and wind frequently make the condition worse.

For many patients pterygium has no symptoms other than in appearance. An enlarged pterygium may cause redness and inflammation. If you have symptoms such as burning, itching, blurred vision or a gritty feeling like something is in your eye you should come in for an exam.

Excision of the pterygium is the first step for repair. Dr. Carlson uses the most effective surgical technique called the “conjunctival autograft technique” for removal. The graft is held in place with biologic glue, eliminating the need for most sutures. When combined with anti-inflammatory medication, the results are excellent. This very quick outpatient surgical procedure typically takes 20 to 30 minutes. You’ll be lightly sedated to ensure that you’re relaxed and comfortable. This is by far the best procedure as there’s little discomfort, it has the lowest recurrence rate and our patients are usually back to work within a few days of surgery. It is important to keep in mind that even with the best of surgeries, pterygium growths can recur, so wearing wide brimmed hats and sunglasses and preventing dry eye is strongly recommended and very helpful after surgery. During your consultation Dr. Carlson will evaluate to make sure the diagnosis is correct and discuss the options with you.

Pterygium surgery is typically covered by medical insurance when deemed medically necessary by a physician.

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