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A pterygium is a wedge-shaped growth of thickened tissue that covers the white part of the eye.

A pterygium (pronounced ter-ig'-ee-um) typically starts growing near the inside corner of the eye. It often extends onto the cornea, toward the pupil. Both eyes can be affected.

Composed of conjunctival tissue, a pterygium may grow large enough to interfere with sight and can cause other annoying symptoms. In these cases, it may have to be surgically removed. If a pterygium does not interfere with sight or cause annoying symptoms, it can safely be left alone.

A pterygium is not a cancer and will not develop into a cancer. Usually, they grow very slowly.

PINGUECULA: A pinguecula (pin-gwek'- u-lah) is similar to a pterygium. It is usually a soft yellow mass confined to the white part of the eye. It can be surgically removed in the same way as a pterygium, but this is rarely necessary.

Causes of a Pterygium

Although the exact cause of a pterygium is not known, it is more likely to develop in people who live in tropical climates, work outdoors and spend a lot of time in the sun.

Exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun is thought to play a major part in pterygium formation. Pterygia occur three times more frequently in men than in women. They rarely develop in children.

Some images and information provided courtesy of RANZCO and Mi-tec Medical Publishing. The complete RANZCO patient education pamphlet is available from your ophthalmologist.