Treatment for a Pterygium

Woman wearing hat and sunglasses.

A pterygium is a type of growth on the eye. It is not cancer. It is most often only a minor problem unless it causes changes in your eyesight. Pterygia (the plural form of the word) are common in sunny climates and in people who do outdoor work.

How to say it

tuh-RIJ-ee-um

Types of treatment

If your pterygium isn't causing any symptoms, it may not need treatment. If symptoms develop, your healthcare provider might treat you with:

  • Over-the-counter eye drops, eye gel, or eye ointment

  • Prescription eye drops, eye gel, or eye ointment

  • Surgery

Only surgery can remove a pterygium. But other treatments may help ease symptoms. Your provider may be more likely to advise surgery if:

  • The pterygium is causing eyesight problems

  • The pterygium is getting larger

  • You can’t move your eye normally

  • You have severe eye irritation that won’t go away with other treatment

  • Your eye’s appearance bothers you a lot

A pterygium will often grow back after it’s removed with surgery. This may be more likely if you're under age 40. In some cases, the pterygium that grows back can cause worse symptoms than the first one. It may be even harder to remove the new pterygium. This is why a pterygium isn't often removed with surgery unless it causes severe symptoms.

A pterygium may be less likely to return if you have other treatments in addition to surgery. These treatments slow the growth of your cells in the area and may help prevent future growth there. The treatments include mitomycin C (MMC) and beta irradiation. These treatments have their own risks. Your healthcare provider will talk with you about the risks and benefits of all treatments.

Preventing a pterygium

Not all pterygia can be prevented. But you can decrease your risk by reducing sun exposure to your eyes. Wear sunglasses and hats when you are outside. Make sure your sunglasses block both ultraviolet A and ultraviolet B rays.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of these:

  • Decreased eyesight

  • Symptoms that get worse

  • New symptoms

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