Understanding pterygium and pingueculum
Pterygium and pingueculum are two forms of eye lesion linked to long-term UV exposure. While a pterygium can sometimes affect vision, a pingueculum usually doesn’t have an impact. However, both forms can be uncomfortable and unsightly.
A pterygium is a red, raised, wedge-shaped lesion that usually appears in the inner corner of the eye and extends into the white. Growth starts in the conjunctiva – the transparent tissue that covers the eyeball – and in some cases may reach the cornea, the lens covering the iris.
A pingueculum is a creamy or yellowish lesion on the white of the eye near the cornea. It is usually triangular, with a thickened, rough surface. Although a pingueculum doesn’t generally harm vision or reach the cornea, it can become a pterygium and pose a problem.
Both pterygia and pinguecula are visible without needing special tools or diagnosis. They can become sore, red and sensitive to light, dust and other environmental factors. If a pterygium starts to affect your sight, you may notice blurred or distorted vision.
If your pterygium or pingueculum lesion is not affecting vision or causing irritation and you’re not concerned about appearance, no treatment is needed. Your ophthalmologist may want to monitor it to ensure it doesn’t grow over the cornea.
Eye drops are an effective option if the pterygium or pingueculum lesion isn’t damaging your vision but is uncomfortable, red or easily irritated.
If a lesion is causing vision problems or cosmetic issues, surgery may be an option and can be done relatively easily with a local anaesthetic.
Here’s how it works:
- The surgeon will open the eye and carefully cut around the lesion.
- The thin slice of tissue is removed from the eye.
- A clean piece of conjunctiva from under the eyelid is removed.
- This piece is placed over the damaged area, and tissue glue is used to hold it in place.
Replacing the damaged tissue helps reduce the risk of the lesion regrowing. Using tissue glue rather than stitches can reduce inflammation and help the eye heal more quickly.
Recovery after surgery can take one to two weeks. Your eye may be red, itchy or painful – your surgeon will prescribe pain relief and eye drops as needed. While you’re healing, it’s important to avoid getting dust, dirt or water in your eye, as this could cause more damage.
If you have a pterygium that affects your vision, surgical removal may not immediately fix the problem. In some cases, scar tissue can damage the cornea, and you may need further laser surgery to correct it.
Patients are often concerned about their lesions regrowing after surgical removal. While this is possible, only about 5% of pterygium cases experience regrowth. Pingueculum lesions do not usually regrow after surgery. You may notice that the removal area is red or raised for a while following the procedure, but this should settle down naturally over time.
To reduce the risk, be vigilant about wearing sunglasses and a hat, and avoid UV exposure as much as possible.
- Protect your eyes from sun exposure.
- Protect your eyes from dust and wind.
- Use eye drops to increase comfort.