Pterygium Q & A


Pterygium, also referred to as “surfer’s eye,” can cause significant discomfort, vision problems, and disfigurement if left untreated. Patients should receive treatment from the experts at Ford Eye Center in Arlington and Mansfield, Texas as soon as they notice a pterygium developing. Close monitoring and intervention can alleviate discomfort and protect the patient’s long-term eye health.


What is Surfer’s Eye?

A pterygium is a pink-colored non-cancerous growth beginning in either corner of the eye and extending in a wedge shape across the eyeball. Despite the name, the condition isn’t limited to surfers; anyone exposed to the harmful UV rays the sun, especially for extended periods of time is at increased risk.

What are the Signs and Symptoms of Pterygium?

Signs and symptoms of pterygium include:

  • A growth on the eyeball, extending from either corner toward the center of the eye in a wedge shape
  • Sensation of a foreign body presence in the eye
  • Burning, itching, or a gritty feeling
  • Astigmatism
  • Blurry vision

Many patients feel self-conscious about their pterygium.

What Causes This Condition?

The primary risk factor for pterygium development is exposure to harmful UV rays from the sun for extended periods of time. However, other possible causes include dry eye syndrome, exposure to dust and wind, age (those who are between 30 and 50 are at greatest risk), and having light-colored eyes and skin.

Can Pterygium Be Cancerous?

Pterygia (the plural form of the word) are always benign, but because only an expert can differentiate between benign and cancerous lesions, it’s important to seek medical evaluation of a new pterygium.

How is Pterygium Treated?

Pterygia are treated based on symptoms, severity, and risk. Patients suffering from a mild pterygium may not require any treatment at all. In some cases, protective contact lenses or eye drops can assist in alleviating pain, dryness, or inflammation of the pterygium. Serious pterygia that are inflamed or affection vision are surgically removed.

Can a New Pterygium Develop After Surgical Removal?

Unfortunately, recurrence after surgical removal is common and occurs in as many as 40% of patients. The risk of recurrence is higher during summer months when patients are more likely to experience extended sun exposure. Two measures can be taken to decrease the risk of a new pterygium developing following removal:

  • An autologous conjunctival graft (an eye tissue graft) can be positioned and secured over the removal site to decrease the chances of new pterygium growth
  • Mitomycin C, a drug that prevents the growth of abnormal tissue, can be applied during and after surgery to decrease probability of a new development

What Measures Can Patients Take to Prevent Pterygium Development?

The most impactful measure patients can take to decrease their risk of this condition is simply to protect their eyes from harmful UV rays by wearing approved sunglasses when outdoors.