What is pterygium?

If you have a pinkish triangular (wedge-shaped) piece of tissue growing across the surface of your eye, you may have a pterygium (pronounced ter-ig-ee-um). Pterygia are thought to develop from long-term sun exposure and often run in families. They are not cancerous and can be safely left alone. Nonetheless, your surgeon sends all excised pterygia for pathology assessment to make sure cancer cells are not missed.

Although pterygia are usually harmless, the inflamed conjunctiva (layer of tissue that coats the eye) can be red and thick making your eye feel dry and irritated. What’s more, cosmetically speaking, they can be obvious and may make you feel self-conscious about your appearance. In advanced cases, pterygium can grow large enough to interfere with vision by distorting the shape of the eye, covering the cornea, and growing over the pupil.

Am I suitable for pterygium surgery?

Surgical removal of pterygium is recommended when:

  • Lubricant eye drops do not help with persistent redness, dryness, or discomfort

  • Sight is deteriorated by distortion (astigmatism) or pterygium growth over the pupil

  • Cosmetic reasons

About pterygium surgery

Pterygium removal is painless and performed by your surgeon in a day procedure centre under a local anaesthetic. During the procedure, the pterygium is gently removed, and the area repaired using a healthy piece of conjunctival tissue (graft). After surgery, depending on your work environment, it’s usually recommended to take 4-5 days off work.


While use of autograft reduces the chances of recurrence, there is a 10–15% chance of it returning.

Depending on your work environment, 4–5 days is usually enough.

Recurrent pterygia can be surgically removed. Mitomycin C (an antimetabolite drug) is used during the surgery to reduce the chances of a second recurrence.