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A pterygium is a benign wedge or bump of something like flesh that grows on your eye. Without treatment, it might slowly change the shape of your cornea and cause vision loss or problems. More likely, this bump will be irritating or painful, so many people want it removed for that reason.
Pterygium surgery can be very expensive since it is often a cosmetic or elective surgery. It is rare that you would undergo pterygium surgery because it was causing serious harm to your vision and health, but many people are tired of the itching, burning, or pain from this condition. There are some options you can choose with pterygium removal that can affect the overall cost.
Ultimately, work with your ophthalmologist or optometrist to determine if you need pterygium surgery and if you can get your insurance provider to offset the price. Recurrence of this condition is normal, so you may not want to have a pterygium removed until it is necessary.
What Is a Pterygium? Why Should It Be Removed?
A pterygium is a benign, flesh-like bump or wedge of skin that forms on the sclera, or the white part of the eye.
Typically, pterygia begin in the inner corner of the eye and spread, but they can sometimes develop elsewhere. Without any treatment, a pterygium can invade the cornea and cause it to slowly change shape, leading to refractive errors and other problems with vision.
If you develop a pterygium, it will grow slowly, and it will rarely cause symptoms. Your optometrist or ophthalmologist can diagnose this condition and monitor it during regular eye exams, so they can determine if the pterygium is likely to cause any vision problems in the future. You may receive medicated eye drops to treat any side effects, such as itching or feeling like something is in your eye. These drops can also slow the pterygium’s growth.
Many people elect to have pterygia surgically removed because the condition can be unsightly or disturbing. It can also cause pain or serious irritation in the eye.
Pterygium surgery is largely successful, and healing occurs rapidly, so most of those who have pterygia removed are happy with the outcome. No matter how well the surgery goes, there is a high risk that you will develop another pterygium.
Pterygium Surgery: Reasons to Choose It Despite the Cost
A pterygium may form in your eye if you are exposed to too much ultraviolet (UV) light, from being outdoors or from frequently using tanning beds. You may also develop one if you are exposed to dust or wind from being outside. Pterygia typically develop in people who are between 30 and 50 years old, but they can occur in people who are younger or older than that.
As long as the pterygium remains away from your cornea, and you have no intense symptoms like pain or consistent itchy irritation (feeling like something is stuck in your eye), your optometrist or ophthalmologist is unlikely to recommend surgical removal. Until your eye doctor orders the surgery, it is considered an elective surgery, so your vision insurance is unlikely to cover the treatment.
The average reported cost, as of 2019, for pterygium surgery and associated treatment is $3,825. The price can range from more than $2,600 to $5,000, depending on the severity of your condition, the average cost of living in your city, and the surgeon’s skill level. The cost can also depend on the type of pterygium surgery you undergo.
Pterygium Surgery Options
Although laser-based surgery is helping to improve many different eye diseases and conditions, there is no laser option for pterygium removal surgery. This is a fairly invasive procedure that requires a scalpel and the removal of tissue, usually replaced with a small graft of your own eye tissue from a different part of the same eye or from the other eye.
There are some options for pterygium surgery.
- Sutures vs. glue: The pterygium will be removed surgically with a scalpel, but once that is complete, a tissue graft is usually fastened into place. Most versions of pterygium surgery use sutures. These are miniscule surgical stitches that will be removed a week or two after the operation. Unlike other types of surgery, dissolving sutures are not used in pterygium surgery because they can cause more discomfort and extend the healing process.
Fibrin glue is a biocompatible form of surgical glue that, unlike sutures, will dissolve as your eye heals. This glue has been shown to reduce inflammation and discomfort, and for some people, it can cut the recovery time in half.
However, fibrin glue is made using blood donations, which can increase the risk of bacterial or viral infections after surgery. This is very rare. More often, fibrin glue is prohibitively expensive, so consumers opt for sutures instead.
- Bare sclera: It is preferable to replace removed sclera with sclera tissue, but in some cases, your surgeon may opt not to add this tissue. Sometimes, this is because the graft can be too expensive. In other cases, healing the area where the sclera was removed might be too complicated.
Bare sclera increases the risk of pterygium regrowth, so this is not considered the best option.
If you choose to have a pterygium removed for cosmetic reasons, you may ask for ways to lower the cost. Sutures are a better option for many. Skipping the sclera graft can increase your risk for a returning pterygium, so you should consider keeping that part of the operation.
You can also work with your optometrist or ophthalmologist to determine when it becomes medically necessary to remove the pterygium so your sight will not be damaged. This helps your insurance cover the cost of pterygium surgery, though they are unlikely to cover the full cost.
Pterygium Recurrence Rates Are High
Aftercare and pterygium prevention are important steps to take after you undergo pterygium surgery. Since these fleshy growths are triggered by exposure to the elements, especially UV light, consider some lifestyle changes.
- Wear UV protecting sunglasses when you are outdoors.
- Wear gear to protect your eyes from wind and dust if you work outdoors or in a dusty environment.
Recurrence rates range from 5 percent to 40 percent, depending on the medical study and the population examined in the study. Most eye doctors tell their patients that pterygium have a high risk of recurrence, even if you make lifestyle changes. You should keep this in mind when you evaluate whether you want to have pterygium surgery or not.
Recovery requires follow-up visits to your eye surgeon, using medicated eye drops to manage infection and inflammation risks, and wearing an eye patch for several days to weeks as your eye heals. These measures can also increase your overall costs, so consider the long-term costs of additional treatment when you decide on pterygium surgery.
What Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)? (August 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Pinguecula and Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye) Treatment. (August 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO).
Pterygium Treatment Cost. RealSelf.