A small growth on the eye could be a pterygium – doctor offers advice

A small growth on the eye could be a pterygium – doctor offers advice


Rachel Riley promotes eye health after successful check up

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A pterygium, said Dr Leonard, is “a thickening of the conjunctiva, the outer membrane of the eye. It is usually painless, though in some it can cause some irritation and dryness”.

She added: “It tends to occur as a reaction to the eye being exposed to wind, dust, and especially UV light, so is more common in people who have lived in hot climates or who are outdoors a lot, especially doing water sports, where the water reflects sunlight.”

Does it require treatment?

Dr Leonard said this all depends on the size of the pterygium.

She said: “When a pterygium is small, often no treatment is required, but if it causes a lot of irritation, or states growing over the central part of the eye and affects vision, then it can be surgically removed.”

What does the surgery involve?

Dr Leonard said the surgery involves “cutting out the abnormal tissue and filling in the defect with a graft of tissue from the upper eyelid, which is usually done under a local anaesthetic”.

“You will need a GP referral to your local hospital eye clinic, and the most efficient way of getting this is probably to email your GP a photo of the affected eye. There shouldn’t be any need for your GP to see you.”

How can it be prevented?

On this Dr Leonard recommended: “The best way of preventing a pterygium occurring or getting bigger is to always protect your eyes with sunglasses with a UV400 rating when outdoors in sunny conditions.

“Those with a wraparound design provide better protection than those with large gaps between the gram and the skin around the eyes. Wearing a hat with a wide brim can also provide additional protection.”

Can a pterygium be cancerous?

Specsavers says: “A pterygium is a noncancerous growth that develops on the white bit of your eye. [It] is not cancerous but regular eye examinations can serve to monitor it over time.

“It tends to occur with increasing age and happens more frequently in those spending most of their time outdoors.

“It’s occasionally known as ‘surfer’s eye’, but pterygium doesn’t just affect those who hit the waves on a regular basis.”

Can it cause blindness?

Again, Specsavers is firm on this: “No, but if the growth creeps across your eye towards and over your pupil, then it can distort your vision.”

While non-cancerous, pterygium does not always require surgery, said the high street optometrists.

Sometimes it can be treated through non-invasive means: “The vast majority of cases in the UK do not require surgery to remove a pterygium and can be managed by using eye drops to keep the eye moist and reduce inflammation.”

In common with Dr Leonard, it said it is key to reduce your risk of pterygium through protecting the eyes from excess UV light.

Furthermore, it added: “If you do have a pterygium, you can slow it down by limiting your exposure to UV rays, dust, pollution and other irritants – the same advice goes for those who’ve had a pterygium removed and don’t want it to grow back.”

While pterygium is a possibility, Specsavers says an optician will try to rule out other eye conditions such as red eye, dry eye, and pinguecula.

Pinguecula is “a common age-related condition and looks like a white or yellow bump on the white of the eye (sclera) caused by a thickening of the conjunctiva (the thin protective layer), usually found close to the edge of the cornea”.

Specsavers added: “Most people with a pinguecula won’t experience any symptoms. But it is possible for the bump that a pinguecula creates on the eye’s surface can interfere with how the tear film is spread across the eye, which can lead to dry eyes.

“Other symptoms of pinguecula include red eyes and eye irritation.”

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