What is a pterygium?

A pterygium (tuh-RIJ-ee-uhm) is a raised, wedged-shaped bump on the eyeball that starts on the white of the eye and can invade the cornea over the iris. It can be white or cream in colour, and usually grows on the side of the eye closest to the nose. These growths are non-cancerous. Often there are no symptoms associated with a pterygium, but the area/eye can become gritty, itchy, or burning and feel like there is something in the eye.

The exact cause of a pterygium isn’t known. One explanation is that environmental factors trigger and accelerate the development of the pterygium. Frequent exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light can lead to these growths. Windy environments have also been associated with growths, and people who spend much time outdoors due to activities such as work, hobbies, or sports tend to have increased occurrence of pterygiums. It is therefore sometimes referred to as “surfer’s eye” as the reflection of the harmful UV rays off the water’s surface increases the person’s exposure. Other risk factors are age (30-50 years old is the most common) as well as light skin and eyes.

What can you do to reduce your chance of developing a pterygium? We suggest wearing UV protective sunglasses, wide-brimmed hats, scarves, and sport-suitable eyewear, ie protecting your eyes from UV light, dusty and windy environments.

We would not recommend that you wait if you have a growth on your eye. An optometrist or general practitioner can confirm the presence of a pterygium, but it can only be removed by an ophthalmologist. Once the presence of the pterygium is confirmed by a professional, have your eye examined by an ophthalmologist sooner rather than later as the only way to prevent permanent scarring on the cornea is to have a pterygium removed before it grows to a size that can affect your vision.

We are here to help you, if you have any questions or concerns, please call us on 033 812 2020 or email us on