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What Is Pterygium?

A pterygium is a pinkish, triangular-shaped tissue growth on the cornea of the eye. This elevated growth is the result of an abnormal process in which the conjunctiva grows into the cornea, but it is not a cancer. Some pterygia grow slowly throughout a person's life, while others stop growing after a certain point. A pterygium rarely grows so large that it begins to cover the pupil of the eye.

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The exact reason pterygia occur is not completely understood. However, long-term exposure to ultraviolet sunlight and chronic irritation from dry conditions seems to contribute to their development.

Pterygia are more common in people who live in tropical environments and in the 20-40 age group. Scientists do not know what causes pterygia to develop. However, since people who have pterygia usually have spent a significant time outdoors, many doctors believe ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun may be a factor.

Additionally, while some studies report a higher prevalence of pterygia in men than in women, this may reflect different rates of exposure to UV light.

Preventing Pterygium

In areas where sunlight is strong, wearing protective eyeglasses, sunglasses, and/or hats with brims may help prevent pterygium.


Because a pterygium is visible, many people want to have it removed for cosmetic reasons. It is usually not too noticeable unless it becomes red and swollen from dust or air pollutants.

Treatments for pterygium can include:

  • Surgery—Surgery to remove a pterygium is not recommended unless it affects vision. If a pterygium is surgically removed, it may grow back, particularly if the patient is less than 40 years of age.
  • Lubricants—Lubricants can reduce the redness and provide relief from the chronic irritation.