Blog post by: Eye Physicians of Long Beach

Woman outside wearing sunglasses and sun hat

A pterygium is a triangular-shaped, non-cancerous growth in the eye. Also known as surfer’s eye, a pterygium begins at the eye’s thin tissue, covers the white of the eye, then extends to your cornea. The growth can stop progressing on its own, or it may gradually continue developing as you get older. Blood vessels in the pterygium may cause scar tissue to form.

If the pterygium worsens, the scar tissue can distort the shape of your eye, resulting in astigmatism. Pterygium growths are more common in men than women. Keep reading to learn more about pterygium and to find out if they are treatable!

Risk Factors of a Pterygium

The most significant reason people develop pterygium is exposure to excessive amounts of ultraviolet light from sunlight. Other risk factors that increase your risk of developing pterygium include:

  • If you have human papillomavirus (HPV), it may lead to a pterygium
  • Living in warmer regions can make you more susceptible to developing a pterygium
  • Spending a lot of time outside in the sun without the proper protection to cover your eyes can lead to pterygium
  • Welders can be exposed to a significant amount of UV radiation without proper eyewear, causing them to develop a pterygium
  • Eye irritation from dusty and dry conditions makes you more prone to their development
  • Getting older also increases your chances of developing a pterygium
  • Exposure to pollution, wind, pollen, or smoke puts you at a greater risk of pterygium
  • Genetics also plays a role, meaning if there’s anyone in your family who has had one, you may develop one as well

Symptoms of a Pterygium

Many people with pterygium may experience mild symptoms or no symptoms at all. The likelihood of this increases if the pterygium is small. If you do experience symptoms, they may include:

  • A raised red, white, or pink growth in the eye
  • Eye irritation
  • Burning sensation
  • Dry eyes
  • Red eyes
  • Decreased vision
  • Blurred vision as the pterygium spreads to the middle of the cornea

Diagnosing a Pterygium

Your ophthalmologist at Eye Physicians of Long Beach can diagnose a pterygium by assessing your medical history and with a detailed eye examination.

Standard tests used are:

Slit-Lamp Exam

A microscope is used during a slit-lamp exam to conduct a thorough physical exam of every section of your eye under a magnification lens. Being able to see the entire eye allows your eye doctor to diagnose pterygium.

Corneal Topography

With corneal topography, your ophthalmologist will check to see if the pterygium has expanded into your central area of vision.

Visual Acuity Test

To test your visual acuity, your eye doctor will have you read letters from an eye chart. Testing your visual acuity lets your eye doctor observe any changes in your vision due to the growth of a pterygium.

Photo Documentation

Your ophthalmologist will take photos of your eye to monitor the rate of growth of the pterygium.

Although rare, you may need to undergo a biopsy to confirm the pterygium isn’t cancerous.

How Do You Treat a Pterygium?

A pterygium that doesn’t have any symptoms or interfere with your vision may not need treatment. But if you’re experiencing symptoms, your ophthalmologist may recommend and prescribe:

  • Artificial tears or lubricating drops to help with eye irritation, discomfort, or redness
  • Steroid eye drops if artificial tears and lubricating drops aren’t working
  • Anti-inflammatory eye drops for an inflamed pterygium that’s causing you discomfort
  • Antihistamine drops to relieve itchy eyes


While other treatments can minimize the symptoms of pterygia growth, undergoing a surgical procedure is the only option that can thoroughly remove a pterygium. It’s important to realize that even if you have a pterygium removed by having surgery, it can still grow back after. You may require surgery if:

  • The pterygium has become unsightly and is making you self-conscious
  • You’re unable to move your eye normally
  • You have a growing or enlarged pterygium that’s causing vision problems like double vision and astigmatism
  • You have severe eye discomfort, pain, or irritation that refuses to go away even with other treatments

Pterygium Surgery

A pterygium procedure is relatively fast and considered low risk. Pterygium surgeries include:

Bare Sclera Excision

During bare sclera excision, part of the white part of the eye, known as the sclera, is uncovered. This is meant to be a barrier to growth for the pterygium growing further into the cornea. The underlying white part of the eye is left exposed to heal on its own. The bare sclera excision technique comes with a greater possibility of pterygium recurrence.

Primary Closure

With the primary closure technique, the pterygium is entirely removed, and the conjunctiva is also closed.

Conjunctival Autografting

Conjunctival autografting involves using healthy conjunctiva from a different part of the eye. The tissue is transplanted and sutured into place to secure the new tissue. Amniotic membrane grafts may also be used to reduce discomfort. Instead, the donor membrane is glued into place rather than sutured, giving patients less pain and faster recovery time. There may be an increased chance of pterygium recurring with autografts and amniotic membrane grafts.

Recovery and Pterygium Regrowth

It may take anywhere between several weeks to a few months for your eye to heal without discomfort or redness. How quickly you recover will depend on the approach your eye doctor chooses to use if you have your pterygium removed. Unfortunately, a pterygium can regrow even after you’ve had it removed surgically. When it does, the growth can be more significant and have worse symptoms than the first one.

Your eye doctor may find it more challenging to remove the new growth. For this reason, ophthalmologists avoid removing a pterygium unless it’s necessary. Apart from using fibrin glue or sutures, surgery used alongside other treatments like beta irradiation and mitomycin C (MMC) can help prevent pterygium regrowth.

Top-Rated Pterygium Doctors

Do you have signs of a pterygium? It’s vital to see your eye doctor as soon as possible. Although many pterygia have few to no symptoms, if left untreated, a pterygium can cause severe scarring on your cornea, and this can ultimately result in vision loss. Whether it’s a mild or severe case, the experienced and skilled doctors at Eye Physicians of Long Beach offer the most advanced and highly effective pterygium treatment.

We’re here to help you alleviate the symptoms of having a pterygium and achieve the best outcomes. Today, learn more about treating a pterygium by scheduling an appointment at Eye Physicians of Long Beach in Long Beach, CA!