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4 Things Pterygium Sufferers Need to Know about Surgical Removal

A pterygium is a benign growth of tissue that can develop on your conjunctiva. This growth can make your eye feel gritty, itchy or like there's a foreign object stuck in it. In some cases, your optometrist may recommend having your pterygium surgically removed. Here are four things pterygium sufferers need to know about surgical removal.

1. When is surgical removal necessary?

Surgical removal is necessary when a pterygium grows across the cornea and starts to impair the vision. It can also be necessary if nonsurgical treatments are no longer keeping the irritation under control. If you're very bothered by the appearance of your pterygium, surgical removal can be done, though it's not medically necessary.

2. What happens during this surgery?

Like other eye surgeries, pterygium removal is performed with only local anesthesia. This is important because your surgeon may need you to look in certain directions to reposition your eye. If you're very anxious, your surgeon may give you a sedative to make you more comfortable.

Your surgeon will carefully remove your pterygium with corneal forceps—tiny tweezers used in eye surgeries—and small scissors. They will start with the head of the pterygium, which is the part that's growing onto your cornea, and then work their way to the other side of the pterygium. Next, they will scrape the area with a blade to make sure that all of the pterygium's cells have been removed.

Depending on the size of your pterygium, the procedure may be finished at this point. However, larger pterygia will require a graft to cover up the surgical site. This graft can be taken from your superior conjunctiva, which is the tissue that lines the inside of your upper eyelid. Amniotic membranes—which come from human placentas—can also be used to avoid removing any of your own tissue. This donated tissue will be placed on the surgical site and then stitched in place.

Your eye will be treated with an antibiotic ointment and then covered with a patch to protect it.

3. Is the recovery period painful?

Since your eyes are very sensitive, the postoperative period is very painful. Your surgeon will prescribe strong painkillers such as opioids to help you feel more comfortable.

Your eye will be sensitive to the light after your surgery, so it's a good idea to recover in a dark room. Try to avoid moving your eyes a lot, and, if possible, keep the affected eye closed to help it heal. You may have trouble looking after yourself during this time, so it's a good idea to have a friend or family member stay with you to help you with your daily tasks.

After a few days, your eye will start to feel better and you'll be able to keep it open. However, your eye will look red for the first couple of weeks following your surgery, and it can take months for your eye to heal completely.

4. How effective is this treatment?

Recurrence rates are fairly high, and recurrence is the main postoperative complication that you need to worry about. The recurrence rate depends on the exact procedure your surgeon uses, but even the most effective procedure has a 33% recurrence rate. To help reduce your risk of recurrence, your surgeon may prescribe postoperative medications. These medications include mitomycin C and thiotepa; these drugs are both used for chemotherapy, but they can also help prevent benign growths like pterygium.

After your surgery, you'll need to try to limit your exposure to ultraviolet radiation. This is because the sun can cause pterygium. Every time you go outdoors, make sure to wear a pair of sunglasses that blocks 100% of ultraviolet rays. You should also wear a wide-brimmed hat. A wide-brimmed hat keeps even more light out of your eyes and can reduce your UV exposure by up to 50%.

If your pterygium is impairing your vision, causing you a lot of discomfort, or making you feel self-conscious, ask an optometrist, like one from Discover Vision Centers, if you're a good candidate for surgical removal.