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  • By Catherine Duffek, MLS, MS
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A pterygium is noncancerous growth of the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is a thin membrane lining the inside of the eyelid and part of the eyeball. It is between the sclera, or the "white of the eye" that surrounds the eyeball and the cornea. If a pterygium keeps growing it may spread onto the cornea. This could cause vision problems.

The Conjunctiva.

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A pterygium forms when the conjunctive grows too much. Why this happens is not known.

Risk Factors

Pterygium is more common in men and in those of increasing age. Other things that may raise the chance of pterygium include:

  • Being exposed to a lot of sunlight, dust, dirt, heat, dryness, wind, and smoke due to:
    • A person's job
    • Hobbies that are done outside
    • Living in sunny climates
  • Working jobs where there are a lot of solvents or chemicals around
  • Having family members with pterygium


The symptoms of pterygia vary. It appears as a fleshy spot that is whitish in color and has blood vessels. It extends onto the surface of the eye. For some pterygia stay small and do not affect vision. These pterygia are noticed only because of how they look. In others, pterygia grow quickly and so large that they affect the cornea and cause severely blurred vision. Pterygia do not cause pain.

Pterygium may cause:

  • Redness
  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Tearing
  • Feeling of something in the eye
  • Blurred vision


The doctor will ask about symptoms and medical history. An eye exam will be done.

Tests may include:

  • An eye chart to check vision
  • Slit lamp exam that uses a bright light with magnification used to view the eye
  • A test that maps changes to how the cornea curves
  • Photos to record how pterygium are growing


The main goals of treating a pterygium are to:

  • Keep it from growing
  • Reduce or prevent infection
  • Treat or prevent infection

Treatment options include:


To help reduce the chance of pterygium:

  • Wear dark glasses with UV protection to shield the eyes from sun, dust, and wind.
  • Avoid harsh environmental factors to slow the growth or regrowth of pterygium.


The doctor will want to check the pterygium. More visits to the doctor may be needed to do this.





  • Facts about the cornea and corneal disease. National Eye Institute website. Available at: https://nei.nih.gov/health/cornealdisease/.
  • Hacıoğlu, D. and Erdöl, H. Developments and current approaches in the treatment of pterygium. International Ophthalmology, 2017; 37 (4): 1073-1081.
  • Linaburg, T., Choi, D., et al. Systematic review: effects of pterygium and pingueculum on the ocular surface and efficacy of surgical excision. Cornea, 2021; 40 (2): 258-267.
  • Pterygium. Digital Journal of Ophthalmology website. Available at: http://www.djo.harvard.edu/site.php?url=/patients/pi/426.
  • Pterygium. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/pterygium.
  • Pterygium. Kellogg Eye Institute, University of Michigan website. Available at: http://kellogg.umich.edu/patientcare/conditions/pterygium.html.
  • What is a pinguecula and a pterygium? American Academy of Ophthalmology Eye Smart website. Available at: https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pinguecula-pterygium.
  • Zeng, W., Dai, H., et al. Evaluation of autologous blood in pterygium surgery with conjunctival autograft. Cornea, 2019; 38 (2): 210-216.
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This content is reviewed regularly and is updated when new and relevant evidence is made available. This information is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with questions regarding a medical condition.