Pterygium - Surfers Eye

A pterygium (pronounced Ti-Ridge-ium) is a ‘wing of tissue’ that grows onto the cornea via the conjunctiva (the transparent skin of the eye).

Pterygium often develop on the area of your eye nearest to your nose.

The primary cause is thought to be UV exposure, in particular the amount you received in childhood.

Developing a pterygium is common in Queenslanders and others who enjoy a lot more time outdoors in sunny and windy conditions. As a result the condition frequently affects surfers, hence the condition has gained the nickname, Surfer’s Eye.

Pterygia are also often found in tradespeople and others that work outside, particularly welders. There is also a higher incidence in men versus women. Patients are commonly aged between 20 and 40.

COMMON PTERYGIUM SYMPTOMS

  • Itching or burning
  • Blurred vision
  • Reddish tissue growing over the coloured part of your eye
  • An ongoing sensation that something is in your eye

Most importantly, some patients may not experience any symptoms at all.

HOW CAN THEY AFFECT YOUR VISION?

A pterygium can affect your vision if it grows large enough to cross the visual axis (the centre of the pupil), or if it causes significant astigmatism. Astigmatism is where the cornea is shaped more like an egg or a rugby football, rather than a perfect sphere, and causes a change in vision.

In some cases, they can cause annoying irritation symptoms because they disturb the spread of the normal tear film. Alternatively, they may also just look red and unsightly with minimal symptoms.

WHAT ARE PTERYGIUM TREATMENT OPTIONS

Small pterygiums that don’t bother you only require good UV protection with wrap-around sunglasses, combined with the use of lubricant drops.

If they are larger and show accelerated growth, cause significant irritation, or bother you with their appearance, they can be surgically removed.

If you decide to have surgery, make sure you choose a surgeon with a special interest and fellowship in the disease. These surgeons use a technique that has a minimal risk of them growing back, called a recurrence, and can guarantee an excellent cosmetic result.

Dr. Smallcombe is the first surgeon in Australia and New Zealand to become an accredited P.E.R.F.E.C.T. for PTERYGIUM® PARTNER. She completed a Fellowship with Professor Lawrence Hirst, the pioneer of the surgical procedure.

RANZCO (The Royal Australian & New Zealand College of Ophthalmologists) has produced an informative brochure on Pterygium. Click here to go to the RANZCO website and download the brochure.

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