How to Pronounce Pterygium

Pterygium is hard to pronounce! The video below lets you hear it tuh-rij-ee-uhm.

Pterygium is one of those difficult to pronounce medical terms that describes a growth on the eye. Pterygiums are common in patients that spend a lot of time outside, such as landscapers or surfers.

What is a Pterygium?

A pterygium is a non-cancerous growth of tissue that forms on the conjunctiva. Normally the conjunctiva is a thin clear membrane over the ‘whites’ of the eye (sclera) and extends to the inner surface of the eyelids. When a pterygium is present, a fleshy mass is felt or seen on the conjunctiva. Larger growths may extend across the cornea. A pterygium is typically painless, but it can cause significant discomfort and even affect vision.

Although it can affect any person, a pterygium tends be more common in adults who spend long periods of time outdoors – in sandy or dusty areas and where there is significant exposure to sunlight and wind. For this reason, a pterygium is commonly referred to as "surfer’s eye" since the environment at a beach presents most of the risk factors associated with the eye condition. It is also very common for landscapers to get pterygiums.

At ICON surgical eye care clinics in Colorado, pterygiums are frequently seen in occupations that spend long hours outside such as landscapers, and less in outdoor enthusiasts the active residents in the state are known to be. This is because popular Colorado sports such as skiing or cycling are more conducive to wearing 100% UV protection while participating in the sport. This is in contrast to water sports, such as surfing, where UV protection on the eyes is not normal while active. Occupation can be a common factor for those with jobs that spend their workdays outside, such as farmers or landscapers.

Causes of Pterygiums

The exact cause of a pterygium is not known. However, it appears to be a reaction to irritation caused by prolonged exposure to UV light (like in sunlight), dust or sand and wind. People who tend to suffer from dry eyes may also be more prone to developing a pterygium particularly if they spend most of their time outdoors. Pterygia (plural for pterygium) often occur in multiple members of families thereby indicating a genetic predisposition.

Despite being very thin, the conjunctiva shields the delicate tissue of the eye. However, with a pterygium the conjunctival tissue undergoes abnormal changes marked by alterations of connective tissue at the site and blood vessel growth in the mass.

A larger growth can extend to the cornea, which is the clear area where light enters the eye, and impair vision in various ways.

Men are more commonly affected than women and a pterygium tends to occur more frequently in the 20 to 40 year age group. It is quite rare in children. Despite being commonly referred to as a surfer’s eye, a pterygium is also seen in farmers, landscapers, and fishermen. Workers involved in any outdoor occupation are at the greatest risk, particularly if they live close to the equator, or at higher altitude such as here in Colorado.

Cost of Pterygium Surgery in Denver

The cost of pterygium surgery is typically between $1800-$2000 per eye. It is billable to most insurance providers.


A pterygium is usually visible on the eye surface although sometimes it may not be noticeable. Smaller and less prominent lesions tend to appear like a little bump on the conjunctiva. However, larger lesions may be significantly elevated with a white to reddish appearance. Pterygia are often preceded by another mass known as a pinguecula, resembles a yellowish patch on the conjunctiva. Most pterygia occur on the part of the eye that closest to the nose. It may affect one eye only (unilateral) or both eyes simultaneously (bilateral). Although a pterygium is not considered to be a serious eye condition, it tends to cause significant discomfort in most cases. Patients tend to report the following symptoms:

  • Burning or itching of the eye(s).
  • A gritty feeling similar to “dirt in the eyes”.
  • Foreign body sensation.
  • Visual disturbances with larger growths.

Diagnosis - How do you know if you have pterygium?

In most cases, pterygia are diagnosed after a physical examination of the eyes and eyelids. Ideally, patients should make an appointment with ICON and those can be scheduled online. The eye may be photographed to monitor the progression of the growth. If necessary, specialized diagnostic tests may be done particularly when the pterygium extends onto the cornea. A corneal topography maps the surface of the cornea to detect any distortions that may arise with a larger pterygium.

Treatment of Ptergiums

Pterygia are typically treated with medication. Sometimes a doctor may adopt a ‘wait-and-watch’ approach where no treatment is prescribed immediately. Medication that may be used to treat pterygia includes:

  • Artificial tears in the form of eye drops, which lubricates the surface of the eye.
  • Sometimes lubricating ointments may be applied to the eye in more severe cases.
  • Topical corticosteroids which are used for a short period to reduce inflammation of the eye.

Surgery to remove the pterygia may be recommended depending on the severity of the condition and its response to medication. Surgical excision is done under local or topical anesthesia and is an outpatient procedure.

Most patients respond well to medication especially when it is combined with preventative measures. The outcome after surgery is also quite good and post-operative complications are uncommon. Pterygia surgery has both a visual and cosmetic advantage but in milder cases this can be achieved with the use of medication.