A pterygium is a benign overgrowth of the conjunctiva, the tissue which lines the eyelids and the white of the eye. This overgrowth grows over the cornea (the clear window of the eye) and eventually can begin to obscure vision.
Pterygia are very common in people who live in areas of high ultraviolet radiation – sunny places, and also those who lived in very dusty places. Obviously people from Africa (but other areas too) will have a double “whammy” of both increased risk factors. People who surf also commonly get them – it is often also called “Surfer’s Eye”. People with dry eyes and those who live in windy conditions also have an increased risk.
A pterygium (named after the Greek for a Fly’s Wing – the insect’s wing) is so called because it does look a little similar to the wing of a fly, except that it is made of eye tissue and not by a fly. Fly wings also do not look as red as a pterygia, but that is where they got their name.
In years gone by, there was little to be done for a pterygium – no treatment until or unless it began to encroach into the area of the pupil, when it would affect the eyesight. This was because the pterygium would generally recur, so early treatment would mean more treatment in the long term. Not all cases will continue to grow towards the centre of the cornea – some will just stop growing of their own accord, so those who are not going to have them fixed should have regular check to make sure it is stable.
Pterygia can be uncomfortable causing
- Gritty feeling
- Sensation of a foreign body in the eye
- Blurred vision
The modern way to deal with a pterygium is to do a conjunctival transplant, where the pterygium is removed, and a piece of conjunctival tissue from under the upper eyelid (which has rarely ever seen the light of day – no UV and very little dust in there) is transplanted to the area the pterygium was removed from. Because the growth does disrupt the regularity of the corneal fibres as it grows it does cause corneal scarring, so modern thoughts would be to treat it sooner rather than later, but again, not all of them do require removal.
They almost always occur in the nasal part of the conjunctiva, and can occur at any age.
I believe F1 driver Nico Rosberg has one in his left eye, but I read (somewhere) that for the time being he has decided not to have it fixed, though the eye does apparently sometimes give him issues during hot races.