Pterygium: Symptoms and Causes



What is a Pterygium?

A pterygium is a raised, triangular or wedge-shaped, harmless growth of tissue on the white of the eye (sclera). It is also known as Surfer’s Eye. A pterygium usually occurs on the side of your eye nearest your nose.

A pterygium can continue to grow over the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eye) in a triangular fashion. It may grow large enough to affect your vision (eyesight). You may get a singular growth (pterygium) or multiple growths (pterygia). In rare cases, a pterygium may cause scarring on your cornea.

Symptoms of a Pterygium

As it grows, it may alter the shape of the cornea resulting in astigmatism, which can change your eye’s focus. If the pterygium continues to grow towards the centre of the cornea, it can affect your vision. 

A thick or large pterygium may make you feel like you have something in your eye. You might find that you don’t want to wear contact lenses as it can worsen the discomfort.

Symptoms of a pterygium include:

– A yellow spot or bump on the white of your eye
– Gritty feeling, like there is sand in your eye
– Swelling of the conjunctiva
– Blurred vision
– Itching
– Burning
– Irritation
– Redness
– Tearing

However, you may also experience no symptoms, especially if the pterygium stays small.


We will conduct a visual assessment and discuss your symptoms before performing a slit lamp test. A slit lamp is a regular part of an eye examination. It involves using a bright light and a microscope to get a clearer view of the eye.

We may also perform:

– A visual acuity test
– Corneal topography
– Photographs of the pterygium

A pterygium is a benign, non-cancerous growth, though it can have a similar appearance to cancer. While rare, we may recommend further testing to rule out precancerous growths if it looks suspicious.

What causes a Pterygium?

A pterygium usually develops if you have been living in a hot, dry climate. We believe it may be a response to long-term sunlight exposure and chronic irritation from a dry environment. People are more likely to experience a pterygium if they spend a lot of time outdoors. However, sometimes people develop pterygium without long-term sunlight exposure.

What puts you more at risk of a Pterygium?

Anyone can get a pterygium, but certain factors mean you are more likely to, including:

– Working or living in a dry, dusty environment
– Exposure to ultraviolet light
– Living close to the equator
– Between 20 and 40
– Gender – male

A pinguecula has similar risk factors, and the cause is the same – sun exposure and irritants such as dust.  People often confuse a pterygium with a pinguecula. We cover the difference between a pterygium and a pinguecula later on in the FAQs.

How to avoid a Pterygium

If you’ve had one before, you are more at risk of getting a pterygium. You can lower your risk by protecting your eyes effectively.


– Dust
– Wind
– Sunlight
– Smoke
– Pollen


– Using artificial eye drops to keep your eyes moist
– Wearing sunglasses and wide-brimmed hats in the sun
– Protecting your eyes with glasses or goggles in dusty environments

Dry, windy air can also lead to dry eye syndrome. If your eyes feel dry and irritated, book an appointment to get an assessment. Once we know the cause of your symptoms, we can recommend the most suitable treatment.

How is Pterygium treated?

Treatment depends on the symptoms you have and how severe they are.

If the pterygium is small or growing, we may recommend eye drops to relieve any redness or irritation.

Surgical removal of a pterygium is needed if:

– There is persistent or recurrent redness or irritation despite using drops
– It alters the shape of the cornea or affects your vision
– It is cosmetically unappealing

To learn more about pterygium surgery, visit our Pterygium Treatment page.

Book an appointment

During your consultation, we will provide a complete assessment of your eye, including the extent of the pterygium.

We may perform scans to determine the depth of the pterygium and its effect on the shape of your eyeball. Depending on the results, Mr Ayoub will recommend the best treatment option for you.

Book a consultation today to discuss the symptoms you are experiencing and receive testing for a pterygium.

    A pterygium is a triangular, pink growth. It develops on the white of the eye and extends to the cornea. The cornea is the clear layer at the front of your eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber.

    No, a pterygium is not contagious and is non-cancerous. It is not a viral infection, so it cannot be spread from person to person.

    Both a pterygium and a pinguecula are conjunctival growths on the white of your eye. A pterygium is a wedge-shaped, pink growth, whereas a pinguecula is a yellow or white raised bump. 

    Unlike a pterygium, a pinguecula does not grow over the cornea. A pinguecula will also rarely need surgery, as it won’t impact your vision in the way that a pterygium might.

    A pterygium doesn’t usually cause pain, though it can cause visual problems if it extends to the cornea, which can lead to headaches. Headaches related to your eye health are usually due to eye strain.

    Protect your eyes from direct and indirect ultraviolet (UV) radiation. If you are going to be in the sun, wear UV-protecting sunglasses and a wide-brimmed hat.

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