A pterygium is a wedge-shaped piece of abnormal tissue that grows out of the cornea. Whether or not surgical removal of a pterygium is recommended depends on its size and extent, as well as its tendency for recurrent inflammation. If a pterygium is small but becomes intermittently inflamed, the ophthalmologist may recommend the use of a nonsteroidal or a mild steroid eye drop when the inflammation develops. Removal is typically recommended if the pterygium grows far enough onto the cornea to impair vision, if it causes chronic inflammation and irritation, or if it interferes with contact lens wear.
Surgical removal of a pterygium is an outpatient procedure that takes less than an hour to perform. The risk of recurrence of the pterygium after surgery can be reduced with the use of a conjunctival graft taken from under the upper eyelid that is placed over the site where the pterygium was located. The graft may be secured with sutures or with human fibrin tissue glue (sutureless pterygium surgery). In cases of recurrent pterygia, medications may be applied to the surface of the eye during surgery to reduce the risk of recurrence. For patients who have not previously had pterygium surgery, recurrence of the pterygium occurs in approximately 5-12 % of eyes within the first 1-2 years after surgery. Various kinds of eye drops are used postoperatively to decrease inflammation and help prevent recurrence.