Pterygium Surgery

Pterygium Surgery Icon by Brisbane Ophthalmologist Dr David Gunn.

What is a pterygium?

A pterygium is a wing of skin that grows on the surface of the eye. It grows from the white part (the conjunctiva) onto the central clear part that appears coloured (the cornea). It usually comes from the nose side, but occasionally comes from the outside. Pterygia usually appear in patients in their twenties or thirties. It may then stay the same for many years or it may grow slowly. Pterygium is not a type of cancer.

Why does pterygium matter?

Many patients with pterygium are not bothered by it, particularly if it is small and stable for many years. However, for some patients it may become red and sore at times causing irritation. For others it can have a poor appearance. If the pterygium is growing towards the centre of the eye it can start to change the shape of the eye which can blur the vision. In the worst cases and very rarely, a pterygium can grow over the line of sight.

How can I prevent pterygium or stop it getting worse?

The main risk factor for pterygium is ultraviolet exposure. Wrap-around sunglasses with a good fit are important. When buying sunglasses look for those with a high UV protection rating and check they are compliant with Australian Standards. “Fashion” type sunglasses without a UV rating are not suitable for protecting your eyes in the harsh Australian climate.

Example of Pterygium in patient's left eye.

How is pterygium treated?

As a specialist corneal surgeon, Dr Gunn is specially trained in the management of primary and recurrent pterygium. If the pterygium is small but irritating, Dr Gunn may try a course of eye drops to improve symptoms. Many cases will need surgical treatment however. If the pterygium is simply removed, there is a high likelihood of it regrowing. The aim of surgery is to give a great cosmetic outcome and have a low rate of the pterygium returning. The main components of modern pterygium surgery are wide removal of a layer called “Tenons” and the use of a graft of conjunctiva taken from a different part of your eye (usually under the top eyelid).

How painful is pterygium surgery?

The operation itself is painless though you may be a little sore for a few days. A specialist anaesthetist will be present during surgery to make you extremely comfortable and relaxed. Dr Gunn uses a tissue glue technique to attach the graft without any of the stiches that are traditionally used. This means your eye will recover faster and be much less scratchy and sore than it would with other methods. Dr Gunn operates on a Thursday and you should be able to return to work on the following Monday.

Family walking along the beach Brisbane.

What will I need to do after pterygium surgery?

Dr Gunn will see you the day after surgery, week 1, month 1, month 3 and month 12. Antibiotic eye drops will be used for 2 weeks and steroid eye drops will be used for 3 months. These drops are important to help give a great cosmetic outcome and prevent recurrence.

I am uninsured, can I still have my surgery with Dr Gunn?

Dr Gunn offers intermediate surgery through the Mater Hospital for patients who are uninsured. This is an affordable option that allows you to have your surgery with an experienced corneal surgeon in a timely manner without requiring health insurance.