Pterygium Surgery

What is a pterygium?

A pterygium (pronounced te-ri-gi-um) is a triangular shaped lump of tissue, which grows from the conjunctiva (the thin membrane that covers the white of the eye) onto the cornea (clear central part of the eye).

A pterygium can occur in both eyes, usually on the nasal side of the eye.

What causes a pterygium?

The exact cause of a pterygium is unknown, but they are strongly associated with exposure to ultraviolet radiation and hot, dry environments.
Pterygiums are more common in the northern parts of Australia and among people such as farmers and surfers who spend a lot of time outdoors, but anyone can develop a pterygium.

Can the pterygium grow back?

A pterygium can grow back after it has been removed. A recurrent pterygium often grows more rapidly than the initial pterygium.

Whilst Dr Hornsby will use the best treatments to try to prevent recurrence of the pterygium, the risk of this happening in each particular case is not predictable. One in every 10 patients may have a regrowth.

How can a pterygium be prevented?

The best way to reduce the risk of developing a pterygium is to protect your eyes from ultraviolet light. UV radiation can also cause cataracts and other eye diseases, as well as the development of skin cancers.

Reducing your sun exposure between 10am and 2pm is highly recommended. Also wearing a hat and wraparound sunglasses will also assist you.

How can a pterygium be treated?

In cases where the pterygium is not actively growing onto the cornea, protecting the eyes from ultraviolet light may often stabilise its growth.

In many cases, provided it is not threatening vision, this may be all that is required.

In cases where the pterygium is actively growing onto the cornea and threatening to distort the vision, the only effective treatment is surgical removal.

What does the surgery involve?

The surgery is performed under a general anaesthetic as a day procedure at the Mater Day Unit in Wellington Street.

You CANNOT DRIVE HOME after the surgery, so ensure that you have a carer and transport arranged for the next 24 hours.

Although the procedure itself takes about 30 minutes, you should expect to be at the Day Unit for approximately 6 hours.

The pterygium is lifted free of the eye and cut away. To reduce the risk of regrowth Dr Hornsby will perform an autoconjunctival graft. This is the relocation of a small portion of the conjunctiva (from under the upper lid) to the site of the excised pterygium.

The healthy tissue retards the growth of any remaining sun damaged cells in the affected part of the eye.

This procedure requires stitches, which normally dissolve.

What can I expect after surgery?

After you are discharged from the day unit, your eye will be patched. This is to remain on until your postoperative appointment the following morning at Dr Hornsby’s rooms.

For several days after the surgery, you may experience some discomfort and pain relief may be required.

You will be given eye drops to use six times per day for the first week. At your one week postoperative appointment Dr Hornsby will advise you of the frequency until your next appointment.
You will need to avoid strenuous activity for approximately one week following your surgery. Recovery times vary between patients. Usually complete healing has been accomplished in one month’s time if there are no complications.

What are the risks of pterygium surgery?

All surgical procedures are associated with some risk and we cannot guarantee that the surgery will always be successful. Please discuss any concerns that you may have with Dr Hornsby or a member of his clinical staff.
  • During the healing process some patients have significant pain and may require prescription pain relief
  • The feeling of ‘grit in the eye’ irritation and dryness may persist
  • The site at which the pterygium was excised may be red for a prolonged period
  • Wound infection is uncommon but if it occurs treatment with antibiotics would be necessary
  • Bleeding is uncommon and should be reported to Dr Hornsby or staff immediately
  • Some scarring of the cornea may follow pterygium surgery. this is usually mild and does not commonly affect vision unless the pterygium was very large
  • A granuloma or ‘proud flesh’ may develop where the pterygium was removed. This usually resolves with prescribed eye drops
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Suite 15, Mater Medical Centre
76 Willetts Road
Mackay QLD 4740


(07) 4942 3301


(07) 4942 9815
Fig 1. Illustration of a pterygium.
Image - Pterygium
Fig 2. Surgical removal of a pterygium.
Image - Pterygium Removal


The information provided here is for general education only and should not be construed as individual medical advice. For advice relevant to your particular situation, please speak to Dr Hornsby.