Valuable information for patients
What is a “growing flesh”?

The growing flesh on the eye, formally called pterygium, is the abnormal growth of the conjunctiva towards the cornea. Let us explain.

The white wall of the eye, on its frontal surface, is covered by a transparent tissue, analogous to the skin, called conjunctiva. In the natural state, the conjunctiva is anchored to the edges of the cornea, in all its circumference.

In some people, usually those with prolonged exposure to the sun, the conjunctiva degenerates, changes, and starts to invade the inner half (from the side of the nose) of the cornea. This invasion is called pterygium, normally known as growing flesh.

The growing flesh advances with time, it enters more and more into the cornea, carrying with it surrounding scar tissue. According to how far they have gone, we classify them as grade I, II, III, and IV (image 1). In the beginning, the consequences of this abnormal proliferation are mostly aesthetic, but as they progress, they promote signs and symptoms of ocular surface inflammation, such as redness, dryness, foreign body sensation, and tearing. If they grow enough, they can also block the entry of light into the eye, therefore blurring the vision.

Treatment to control the progression of a pterygium is first and foremost the avoidance of direct sun exposure, by means of filtered glasses. Lubrication and antiinflammatory drops sometimes play an important role.

To get rid of the problem in a definite way, surgery is needed, which implies physically scraping it and trying to remove the scar. If this procedure is done early in the course, it is usually curative, in over 95% of cases.

However, in many patients, especially when sun exposure is not avoided, the growing flesh comes back after the surgery. We call this a recurrence.

The best way to prevent a recurrence of the growing flesh, is by replacing it with some kind of graft, usually placing healthy conjunctiva harvested from another sector on the eye, in place of the removed tissue. Also, on occasions, other kinds of grafts are used, such as amniotic membranes. With this technique, recurrences are very rare. (Image 2)

Surgery to remove a pterygium is a very safe procedure, given that it all happens outside the eye itself, on the surface. The main problems tend to be related to discomfort in the days after the intervention, and rarely, a recurrence. It is recommended to remove the growing flesh before they affect the vision, because once this has happened, the recovery tends to be incomplete.

I hope this information will prove useful.

Dr. Víctor Flores


Image 1-Pterygium grade IV invading pupillary area. Courtesy of José Miguel Varas MD.
Image 2- Pterygium surgery with conjunctival autograft. Courtesy of community eyehealth.