Pterygium Surgery and Treatment

Pterygium is a benign thickening of the outer coating of the eye that grows onto the cornea. As a pterygium grows, it may become red and irritated. Eventually, it may cause visual disturbances by disrupting the normally smooth surface of the cornea. In severe cases, a pterygium can block a patient’s vision altogether.

In pterygium surgery, the abnormal tissue is removed from the cornea and sclera (white of the eye). Over the years, pterygium surgery has evolved significantly, and modern pterygium surgery has a significantly higher success rate than conventional surgery where the pterygium may grow back in up to 50 percent of patients.

Several different techniques can be employed to lessen the likelihood of pterygium recurrence, including radiation treatment and the use of medications that prevent growth of tissue. Each of these techniques has risks that potentially threaten the health of the eye after surgery, however, including persistent ulceration in the surface of the eye and corneal melting. 

One particular surgical technique—conjunctival autograft—requires a high degree of skill to perform but offers reduced risk of recurrence. In this technique, the pterygium is removed, and the cornea regains clarity. However, the gap in the mucous membrane (conjunctiva) tissue, where the pterygium was removed, is filled with a transplant of tissue that has been painlessly removed from underneath the upper eyelid. With the use of a newer fibrin glue technique, this surgery can be done without sutures and can speed-up the healing process.