Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)

What Is a Pterygium?

A pterygium, from the Greek word for “wing,” is an abnormal growth of tissue that extends from the conjunctiva (a membrane that covers the white of the eye) onto the cornea. Pterygia may be small, or grow large enough to interfere with vision and cause irritation. These growths are commonly located on the inner corner of the eye.


  • Appearance of a raised pink, white, or red lesion on the eye
  • Redness and irritation of the eye
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Decreased or blurry vision

The symptoms described above may not necessarily mean that you have a pterygium. However, if you experience one or more of these symptoms, contact your ophthalmologist for a complete exam.


The exact cause of pterygia is not well understood. Long-term exposure to sunlight, especially ultraviolet (UV) rays, wind, and chronic eye irritation from dry, dusty conditions seems to play an important causal role.

Risk Factors

Pterygia occur more often in people who spend a great deal of time outdoors, especially in sunny, windy climates.

Tests and Diagnosis

A pterygium can be diagnosed during a routine eye examination. Sometimes photos will be taken to document growth or to measure astigmatism (abnormal curvature) from the pterygium that may contribute to decreased vision. It is important to see an eye doctor, since other more serious conditions can appear that are similar to pterygia.

Treatment and Drugs

When a pterygium becomes red and irritated, topical eye drops or ointments may be used to help reduce inflammation. If the pterygium continues to be irritated, grows large enough to threaten sight, or becomes cosmetically unsightly, it can be removed surgically. Sometimes pterygia can recur after surgical removal.

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Reviewed by Christopher T. Hood, M.D.