What is a Pterygium?
A pterygium is a non-cancerous growth arising from the conjunctiva and underlying tenons tissue that grows onto the surface of the cornea. This is distinguished from a Pinguecula which does not extend onto the surface of the cornea.
They can be cosmetically unappealing, cause irritation and visual distortion. Sometimes they grow so large that they can reach the pupil.
Pterygia usually arise from a long-time UV light or dust exposure. They are commonly found in people who grow up in tropical environments (likely to due to the amount of sun exposure).
How do we treat Pterygia?
Pterygia and pingueculae can become inflamed easily and turn a section of the eye extremely red when the overlying blood vessels dilate. Often this is easily treatable with a course of topical steroids. But in patients who have recurrent inflammation of their pterygia or it distorts vision, we recommend surgical excision. This is a 30-45 minute procedure in the operating room and requires ‘twilight’ sedation by an anesthesiologist.
Controlling inflammation after surgery is the key to preventing recurrence. First, we use Mitomycin C, which is an anti-scarring agent that reduces the potential of regrowth of the diseased tissue. This has to be handled very delicately, however, to prevent any potential damage to the surrounding healthy structures. Secondly, we often use an Amniotic Membrane graft which offers multiple benefits of creating a scaffold for the healthy conjunctiva to grow as well as to reduce the inflammation from the excised area. We prefer this method over a conjunctival autograft to save the surrounding tissue in case it is needed for other procedures. Third, patients take topical steroid drops after surgery to reduce inflammation until we are comfortable that the inflammation is controlled.
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