Pterygium – a Disease Caused by Sunlight

A pterygium is a degenerative disease of the conjunctiva: the part of the conjunctiva closest to your nose swells, and this swelling can also affect the cornea and cause scarring. A pterygium is directly related to the amount of ultraviolet (UV) irradiation an eye experiences throughout life. For example, people who have been exposed to too much sun or high altitude for years tend to have a pterygium more than others.  Accordingly, the disease is more common in people from the Mediterranean or in people who live at altitude.


A pterygium causes a number of symptoms:

  • Dry Eyes: Your eyelids have glands that produce eye lubricant. Every time you blink, it smears lubricant over the surface of your eyes. But if you imagine the eyelids as car windscreen wipers, spreading the lubricant, a pterygium can be imagined as representing a “hump” on the surface – and the lubricant isn’t distributed near this “hump” – creating dry eye in that region.
  • Redness: As a result of the chronic dry eye there is permanent irritation and redness. The dry surface leads to limited vision, blurred and fogged vision.

Surgical removal

A pterygium can be surgically removed. The first step is to remove the growth with a scalpel and scissors under a surgical microscope, and closing the conjunctiva, which is either done directly (by suturing the gap together) or by using a conjunctival graft. However, another step is required: smoothing the surface of the cornea with an excimer laser. Why? If even a microscopic part of of the pterygium remains, it can regrow; the laser smoothing reduces the risk of this happening. ELZA has the surgeons with the skills and the equipment to do this.



Sunglasses – protection against pterygium and early cataract

This film by the European Sunglass Association was created with the collaboration of Prof. Hafezi from the ELZA Institute and explains the effect of too much sunlight on the eye. In addition to the conjunctiva, other structures of the eye may suffer, such as the human eye lens or even the retina

The ELZA Institute