The pterygium is a benign, non cancerous, wing shaped (“petyrigion” is the ancient Greek word for “wing”) tumour of the conjunctiva (which is the superficial membrane that covers the surface of the eye).
The body of the wing is easily visible as a slight redness on the “white” part of the eye, usually on the nasal side. The whitish, irregular, bulbous summit of the wing is directed to the centre of the cornea (the main, anterior, lens of the eye).
It is a very frequent tumour, particularly in adults living in hot and sunny areas as it is the case in south of Tenerife.
Congenital forms of this tumour are very aggressive and, fortunately, rare. The most frequent form is the one that develops in persons exposed to ultra-violet (UV) rays of the sun during leisure activities (beach, sunbathing, nautical water ski, surf, windsurf, kite surf, diving, rowing, delta plan, hiking, alpinism etc.) or for professional reasons (marine fishing, open air agriculture and constructions etc.). Trachoma (that is also a disease of sunny countries) and the exposition to infra-red (IR) rays produced by high degree heat (pastry cookers, bakers, pizzaïolos, firemen, welders, glaziers, workers in steel industry etc.) and to irritating products (natural or industrial dust, sand, cement etc. ) are also predisposing factors of this tumour.
The risk of occurrence is high when the exposition to these factors happens during childhood.
UV and IR filtering sunglasses is a good prevention mean.
Left without treatment, the pterygium, initially limited to the conjunctiva, extends progressively towards the centre of the cornea and becomes annoying by its unaesthetic appearance and the occurrence of chronic mechanical irritation due to the increase of its thickness. The extension towards the centre of the cornea can lead to visual, sometimes disabling, defects.
The modes of evolution of this tumour can go from slowly progressive to aggressive. In order to determine its expandability, the ophthalmologist takes photographs of the tumour at each visit.
Surgery is the unique widely acknowledged treatment. It is indicated as soon as the tumour invades the cornea. At the moment the cornea is invaded, the longer one waits before surgery, the greater the risk of keeping visible scars and visual impairment.
Many surgical techniques are used to cure this tumour but the risk of its relapse, sometimes fast and aggressive, reaches 5 to 50%, depending on the technique chosen by the surgeon. The combination of different techniques, adapted to each particular case, joined to meticulous and extensive procedure, lowers notably the risk of relapse.