What Is Pterygium?

Man with Pterygium in left eye

Pterygium (pronounced tur-idj-ee-um) is a fleshy, non-cancerous growth that affects the conjunctiva and sometimes the cornea of the eye. It is also known as Surfer’s Eye. In this blog, we’ll discuss the causes, risk factors, and treatments for this condition. 

How do I know if I have pterygium?

Symptoms of pterygium can range in severity. Mild symptoms may include redness and irritation of the conjunctiva. There may also be a small yellow spot or bump on the white of the eye, usually on the side closest to the nose. In more severe cases, a triangle shaped growth will develop, sometimes growing onto and over the cornea. While pterygium is generally benign, one study found that it may be an indicator of increased risk of developing cutaneous melanoma.

What causes pterygium?

Pterygium is primarily associated with exposure to UV and working outdoors. Additional risk factors include exposure to irritants, such as dust and wind, and living closer to the equator. It is more common in surfers, welders, and farmers, and occurs more frequently in men than women. 

How is Pterygium treated?

Pterygium does not usually need to be treated unless it causes discomfort or affects vision. Discomfort can be minimized with over the counter artificial tears. Steroid eye drops may be prescribed to minimize swelling. In severe cases, surgery may be necessary. During pterygium surgery an ophthalmologist will remove the affected tissue and replace it with a graft. In some cases, pterygium may recur after surgery. 

How can I avoid Pterygium?

The best way to avoid a pterygium is by properly protecting your eyes from UV. Sunglasses and hats should be worn outdoors at all times, as UV may be present even when it is cloudy. UV can also be reflected off of surfaces like water and snow. In dusty and windy environments, goggles should be worn to minimize exposure to irritants. Using preservative free artificial tears can help to keep eyes lubricated and flush out foreign bodies.  

Annual eye exams are the best way to keep your eyes healthy. Early detection of eye problems is key. To schedule an exam, call or text (907) 328-2920. To learn more about UV and eye safety, read our blog


Crewe JM, Threlfall T, Clark A, et alPterygia are indicators of an increased risk of developing cutaneous melanomasBritish Journal of Ophthalmology 2018;102:496-501

Written by:

Gina Stafford COA, LDO, ABOC

Posted in: Eye Health Guide

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