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Can someone with a pterygium have a LASIK procedure?

By Joel Hunter, MD | 8/17/18 7:00 AM
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If you clicked on this article wondering, “What’s a pterygium?” then it means you probably don’t have one. Not to get off track right at the beginning, but that’s impressive to me that you would decide to read this without knowing what it was. Intellectual curiosity like that is a gift and should be rewarded. I hope you’ll find the information in the article rewarding. And if not, I hope you find money on the ground or something else great happens to you.

For everyone else who has been told they have a pterygium: I have rewarding news! The answer to the question about whether or not you can have LASIK is usually yes. There are times when the answer would be different (in this case “no”), but those times are relatively rare. They include the following:

• if the pterygium is growing very far into your central cornea to block the vision,

• or if the pterygium is causing a change in your prescription for glasses.

What’s a Pterygium?

Now you’ve had some good news, my friends with pterygiums, let’s talk about what a pterygium is. You may think, “But I already know what it is.” That is fair. But, it isn’t just you and me reading this. Those intellectually curious folks from the first paragraph — who are pillars of society, in my opinion — are reading too. It seems fair to discuss pterygiums (technically, the plural is “pterygia”) since they’ve read this far. Plus two paragraph is way too short for an article. I’ve seen tweets longer than that.

When you look at the white of your eye, you’re actually looking through the clear conjunctiva that covers it at the white sclera underneath. The conjunctiva is usually relatively boring (which is good). Conjunctiva only ever gets headliner status if it experiences infection or inflammation, which is called conjunctivitis or pink eye. Sometimes, however, the conjunctiva just starts growing in ways it shouldn’t. If it grows onto the clear cornea, then that is called a pterygium.

Surfer’s Eye

We don’t know exactly why it happens, but it happens way more commonly if you’ve had a ton of UV exposure. One of the colloquial terms for it is actually “surfer’s eye.” Isn’t that great? It is easily the coolest nickname on record for an eye pathology. I’d like to think that at one point an ophthalmologist decided to coin that phrase for a pterygium when talking to a really cool patient. “You’ve got a pterygium. But you know what, Brody? You’re just so cool that pterygium doesn’t really fit you. I say we start calling it ‘Surfer’s Eye’” And then Brody said, “Totes.”

Either way, for most people a pterygium is an annoyance that causes relatively few symptoms. It can get inflamed sometimes because it is a slightly raised bump on the surface of the eye. Like a sandbar, if the water levels are low, the pterygium will turn into a tiny, dry island. For patients who are candidates for LASIK but have a pterygium, that’s a helpful piece of info to know. The treatment for dryness (which everyone needs for a couple months after LASIK) may be more involved. That said, I’ve performed LASIK on a lot of people with pterygia, and it’s never been an issue.

To my friends with Surfer’s Eye, and my intellectually curious friends who just wanted to learn about pterygia, I hope you found what you were seeking. Sure, there are more interesting eye problems — but none with a cooler name.

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