I wrote this page so that others who may be going through, or considering a pterygium removal can get a patient’s point of view of the procedure and recovery.
What is a pterygium?
The Optometry Australia website describes a pterygium (pronounced ter-idge-ee-um) as
“a triangular-shaped lump of tissue with blood vessels that grows from the conjunctiva (the thin membrane that covers the white of the eye) on to the cornea (the clear central part of the eye).”
Pterygium growth is strongly associated with exposure to UV light. They are not a problem unless they grow to a size where they start to affect vision by growing over the cornea, or causing corneal distortion.
Pterygia can be removed by a surgical procedure performed under a local anaesthetic, where the pterygium is cut off, and then a graft of conjunctiva from under the eyelid is sewn over the excised area of the cornea.
I’ve had a pterygium in my right eye for years. My wife, who once worked as an orthoptist, noticed it over a decade ago. Seven years ago when I first had to get reading glasses, the optometrist noted it also. At this time it was only small and not bothering me in any way. With regular eye checkups the optometrist kept track of the pterygium, and not much changed, until my checkup last year, when she noted that the pterygium had grown a lot in the past two years, and if left untreated would begin to cover my iris and affect my vision.
A subsequent appointment with an opthalmic surgeon confirmed that removal of the pterygium was recommended.
Friday 9th February 2018. The surgery was booked for first thing in the morning and I arrived at the eye centre at 7am. It seems I was only the second patient for the day, so there was no waiting, and everything progressed without delay, and great efficiency. An interview with the nurse, a few doses of anaesthetic eye drops, and before long I was in the operating room.
I found the surgery itself quite disorientating, lying down in a chair with a mask over my face, so that I couldn’t see anything with my left eye. My right eye was just a blur, presumably the effect of the anaesthetics. There were bright lights above, and the surgeon and nurse were just disembodied voices around me. At one point the surgeon asked me to “look down”, which really confused me. I’m lying flat on my back with my eyes to the ceiling – how can I look down? Of course what he meant was look towards my toes.
Before the procedure I had asked the nurse how long it would take. She said 5 minutes. It certainly felt more like more than 5 minutes, probably closer to 10 minutes. The actual procedure wasn’t painful, but I would describe it as uncomfortable.
After the surgery the nurse explained the post operative care I would need. The eye was to be kept bandaged until the following morning, and then I would need to administer an anti inflammatory eye drop every two hours for a week (reducing to 4 times a day for another 4-6 weeks), plus an antibiotic eye drop four times daily for a week.
I was back in the reception desk with everything done, ringing for my lift to pick me up, by 8:30am
Travelling home after surgery the anaesthetic still hadn’t worn off, so I don’t look too pained in the picture above. That would change.
About an hour after surgery the pain really kicks in. It feels like there are tiny shards of glass in my eye. Any movement of my eye, however slight, is painful. As my eye is covered with a bandage, and must remain that way until the next morning, the only pain relief available is Paracetamol. It doesn’t help much. Although I can see with my left eye, it is very hard to do so as every movement of my left eye in order to focus on something causes pain in my right eye. To minimise this I spend most of the day with eyes closed.
I have to move around my house by memory and feel. Fortunately our house is fairly open and uncluttered so I manage to get through the day with crashing or tripping. To pass the time I listen to music a lot, and I get to use Siri (voice recognition) on my phone a lot that day.
If I have to open my left eye to look at something I have to concentrate on keeping my eyes completely still, and move my head around instead of my eye. I must have looked odd doing that.
By evening the pain is such that I feel like if I had known beforehand that it was going to be like this I wouldn’t have had the surgery.
I had a poor night’s sleep and I’m really tired today. The eye was still really painful when I woke up. After removing the bandage over the and washing carefully with clean water, and administering the anti-inflammatory eye drop, the sharp pain dissipated surprisingly. It now feels like a stinging sensation, like getting shampoo or soap in the eye.
I find that I’m sensitive to bright light, even in my good eye. I had to shower in semi darkness with the aid of just an LED night light as the normal lighting is too bright. I still have to spend a lot of time with both eyes closed, or wearing sunglasses.
I can open my eyes for short periods today, and so it’s only now that I get to read the post-operative care instructions that the nurse gave me yesterday. Here’s a tip for optical surgery providers … give the post-op instructions to your patients to read before you temporarily incapacitate their vision. Just a suggestion.
I’m still quite sensitive to bright light and I find it helpful to wear sunglasses indoors. I try to do some reading and using computer today. In particular I have to use the computer to finish and submit next month’s article for my local history column. (I really should have finished that before I let a stranger come at my eye with a sharp knife.) Overall I think I overdo the screen time and by bedtime my eye feels very strained and sore.
I was supposed to go back to work today but although I can see, looking at a computer screen is extremely difficult after 5 minutes. As a software engineer, pretty much my entire working day involves looking at a computer screen, so going to work is not an option. I stay home and try to rest as much as possible. I pluck up the courage to photograph my eye so that I can see what it looks like. It was pretty much as I expected – very red.
By the afternoon I found that I could look at screens longer. Maybe I’ll be back to work tomorrow?
After being inside my house for 3 days, in the evening I go for a walk in the local park, but even with the low light of dusk, and with sunglasses on, I find it uncomfortable.
First day back at work today. With the level of irritation I was still experiencing, I wasn’t entirely ready to go back, but I’m getting tired of lying around doing nothing. I’m not up for driving a car yet, but that’s not an issue as I cycle to work. I found that I had to cycle slower than usual so as to not have too much air rushing past my eye, which irritates it.
Overall the first day back at work goes OK, but when I get home, after dinner all I can manage is to lie in bed with eyes closed listening to music.
Back at work again today. Some colleagues comment that the eye doesn’t look too bad, but I can easily elicit gasps and groans by looking up and to the right to reveal the full extent of the blood shot region of my eye.
Post operative follow up appointment with an optometrist at the eye centre today. She said the graft was taking well but the eye was still quite irritated and swollen. Although the initial instructions were to use the anti-biotic eye drops 4 times a day for the first week, she tells me to continue with the antibiotic drops for another week.
She also tells me that recovery from pterygium surgery is more painful than cataract surgery, and that my pterygium was a large one. Nice to know – I thought I was just being a wuss. I now have grounds to angle for more sympathy.
I was driven to work by my daughter. Today is probably the first day that I could possibly drive a car if absolutely necessary, but I prefer not to.
Its been one week since the surgery. This is the first morning I’ve woken up where the eye felt less irritated than the previous morning. There’s less of a stinging sensation, and more like a feeling that there’s some grit or fluff in the eye. It’s hard to resist the urge to rub the eye. That of course only exacerbates the irritation.
As I work a four day week, today being Friday is a non-work day and I get to rest a bit. I’m feeling sufficiently unmiserable to laugh at our cat who decides that my belly is a nice place to go to sleep. She’s never done that before. Maybe I’ve been lying down so much in the past week she now thinks I’m part of the furniture.
By the end of the day my eye was back to the stinging sensation. Frustrated at the slow progress, I Google pterygium surgery recovery. There are lots of sites with information from medical providers, but I also find few helpful accounts from the patient’s point of view. It seems that my recovery is in line with what others experienced. I wish that I had known this before I embarked on this procedure.
At this point I decide that it would be good to write up my own story so that others can benefit in the future. I start to make a few notes in preparation.
I woke up this morning with no noticeable improvement from yesterday morning. Dang this is slow. Much patience is needed.
I find that moving air irritates my eye, so I find it hard to be outside in a breeze, or in a room with a fan. Fortunately the weather has been mild in the last week.
I’m getting tired of having to administer eye drops every two hours. It’s so constant that it becomes hard to remember when I last did it and when it’s next due.
Today was another opportunity for rest. I don’t know whether my sleep is still being affected, but I found that just lying down for a while doing nothing made me very sleepy.
I had constipation this morning. I never have constipation. Is this a side effect of the antibiotic eye drops? Or is it because I’m doing a lot less physical activity as I lie down a lot more in order to rest they eye? Or just a coincidence? Who knows? I aim to eat more fruit today.
I take another photograph of my eye. Not pretty.
I collect together all the notes I’ve been making and photographs I’ve been taking, and publish this page to my website.
There has been a definite turn for the better today. The irritation is less and several times I was late taking the 2 hourly drops. I was able to catch up on and reply to a bunch of emails that have been waiting in my inbox over the last fortnight.
I’ve been concentrating so much on administering my eye medication every 2 hours, that I realised this morning that I’ve missed taking my blood pressure medication for the last 4 days. Oops.
Back to work today again and my eye definitely has less of a stinging soreness, and more of a dry itchiness. I find that I have to lower the brightness on my computer screens. I also have to periodically close my eyes for 30 seconds or so to rest them. I suspect that the air conditioning vent directly above my desk might be a contributor to the irritation. I could move to a different desk, but there doesn’t seem to be any spare desks that are better situated than my current one.
It was very windy today cycling to work, and it was a bit annoying for my right eye. Perhaps I shouldn’t have cycled? In the recovery process there is a constant navigation between the extremes of lying down and doing nothing for weeks on the one hand, and putting aside the discomfort and just getting on with normal life on the other hand. Despite the discomfort while cycling, I had minimal issues once I was at work.
I’m still waking up each morning with my right eye gummed up, and I have to gently wash it out with warm water. How much this is caused by the eye healing up or by the accumulation of antibiotic and anti inflammatory eye drops, I can’t tell.
Today is the last day for the antibiotics. I’ve been taking this 4 times a day and the anti inflammatory 8 times a day. This means 12 drops a day over 12 days, for a total of 144 drops. I’m tempted to make a joke about this being gross, but to be fair it’s just tedious.
From tomorrow I’ll just be taking the anti-inflammatory 4 times a day. I’ll see if that makes any difference to morning gumminess.
Today was the first day that I got through the whole day at work without my eye causing disruption. Although it is still a little sore, I didn’t really notice it while I was concentrating on work.
I drove a car for the first time today after the surgery two weeks ago. I probably could have driven a week ago, but I’ve had no need to use the car until today. The eye is still very red.
Pretty much all the soreness and irritation in my eye has gone now. Occasionally I get a slight feeling in the eye like a bit of dust has got in the eye. The colour of the eye has faded to a dark pink, from the stark red that it was last week. At work yesterday, two colleagues unprompted remarked that the eye was looking much better.
It was very windy when cycling to work this morning, and I thought to myself that my right eye wasn’t bothered by the wind like it was a couple of weeks ago on a really windy day. However it must have had an effect, because by mid morning at work the eye felt dry and irritated.
There’s been a big gap since the last update, because about six weeks after the operation all the irritation had gone, and there was no daily reminder that I’d had eye surgery. It probably took about another two months for most of the redness to subside.
My eyesight in the operated eye has had a some small improvement, it is less blurry than it was before, but not a huge difference. However, I had the surgery to avert future vision problems, not to fix existing vision problems.
In summary, there was a period of about a week after the operation where the pain and discomfort were such that I wished I hadn’t had the surgery. Five months on, the trauma of it all is a distant memory and I’m glad I did it.
About a year after my surgery I began to experience some irritation in my eye and was worried that the pterygium was growing back again. I visited the optometrist who advised me that the irritation was nothing to do with the pterygium, but was a condition called blepharitis. Blepharitis is usually easily treated, in my case by regular cleaning of the eyelids and eyelashes with a cleansing foam.
The moral of the story – make sure you get good advice from an appropriate medical professional.
It’s day 5 for me now. Still painful.
Tried to work today, and did. But feel I shouldn’t have.
The graft or something keeps moving across (the colour section of eye)
This is very irritating. I’m concerned the graft hasn’t taken and is sliding around.
If I push it back away from colour section I feel Instant relief. When I blink it slides across again.
Is this normal?
I’m worried ?
I don’t know. I’m not a medical professional. I’m just a person who wrote about my experience.
Hi, I’m so glad I found your story. I had my surgery to get my pterygium removed from my left eye last Monday (and am due to get my right eye done in the New Year). I’m still getting use to it feeling scratchy while it’s healing but it’s been 1 week since the op and I’m still very swollen and my eye feels more irritated now than it did in the first couple of days post op (this could be from the stitches dissolving). I just wanted to ask if you felt like this at the one week mark? Did you feel the irritation become more constant?
I want to see my surgeon/specialist tomorrow as my next appointment with her isn’t scheduled for another 3 weeks but if this feeling is normal then I may just wait it out and save the hassle.
It has been over 3 years since I had my surgery, so I can’t remember specifically what was happening at the one week mark. In general I remember that the healing was slow, but at no point did it really go backwards in terms of irritation. If you’re worried, definitely seek professional consultation.
As with the other comments, was very happy to find this – thanks for taking the time and pics.
My removal and graft was 10 days ago and similar story, although my doctor helpfully put me under and prescribed very strong painkillers which I took about 4 hrs after surgery, 4 hours later, and the next morning, more as a preventative than anything. Worked a treat as pain didn’t get above a 4 – was expecting a 10. Discomfort alot higher, also had constipation for a few days around the same time (wondered if a slow after-effect of the anaesthetic). Surgery was Thursday. Told I would be ok to work Monday. Didn’t have to start till Tues but 10 hours on the screen each day was a bit much. Luckily working from home so took a few breaks but really think I should only have done half days. Hoping in a few months will have no sign of pterygium, redness or inflammation, as planning on doing the other eye next year. Thanks again.
Thanks for posting this! I have a small pterygium and it gets itchy after surfing or watching screens, thinking about getting surgery, I was wondering how do you feel about getting it done yourself nowadays, do you think you did the right thing? thanks again
The advice my optometrist gave me was that my pterygium was expanding, and that if I didn’t have it removed it would eventually affect my vision. Nearly 3 years after the surgery my vision is still fine, so despite the pain and discomfort at the time, I’m glad I had my pterygium removed.
Note that it is important to seek professional advice on whether pterygium removal is required. I had a pterygium for many years that did not require attention until it started to expand.
Thank you very much Lachlan for this info, it’s very helpful. I live in the UK and it’s impossible to find a doctor here who will give anti-inflammatory eye drops post pterygium surgery. Can I also ask you if you had stitches or Fibrin glue (or both) during the surgery, and if the stitches needed to be removed?
I had neither stitches or Fibrin glue during surgery.
I had my Pterygium removed 18 days ago. It was very painful first few days. Had to take strong painkillers. They made me sleep a lot, which was good. Eye is still reddish, but feels okay. The only thing is, I have a bit of a bump at the bottom of the eye and am worried that the graft has broken down.
@morgan it depends on individuals on recovery
I had the graft with glue procedure done in new Zealand 19 days ago
and mine looks pretty good has got less red in the last 4 days and probably looks like around day 40ish of the photos above if not better.
my pterygerium on its bad days was about as red as my eye is now on recovery
it is a very common procedure here tho there was 3 other surgerys for the same thing the day I was there
I also got a pterygium excision 53 days ago. My eye is still reddish where the pterygium was cut out. So I wondering when the redness would go away. At least now I know that I gotta wait a few more weeks.
Thank you so much for posting this! I am going to get this surgery but trying to decide whether to do it next week or wait until January. I am getting married on 12/28 and would love to not have a pterygium at my wedding…. I was told by the doc that my eye would look fine by my wedding, but based on your recovery I feel like at 8 weeks I might still look kinda jacked up. This post definitely helps me make my decision to wait until post-wedding! I’d rather have a slightly noticeable pterygium than a super noticeable red and mangled eye!
Such a good read Lachlan. I am very grateful to you that you spent the time to document your recovery…wished I’d read it before I had my procedure.
I’m 12 days post op and have been struggling, not realising how slow the recovery is going to be. My Dr said my eye would be a bit sore after…what a joke..SORE?? If my eye had a voice, it would have been screaming…most unpleasant to say the least. Just as well I had strong medication for that night (not supplied by the Dr I might add) as I really was not coping very well.
I suppose my recovery has also been compounded as my affected eye is my only eye. The other is artificial. I still can’t focus for too long on just about anything and also spend a lot of time with my eye closed. Thankfully, although slow, things will improve. Yay!
Thank you again Lachlan..a really enlightening read.
My husband just had this surgery. Thank you for sharing your experience. It was extremely helpful and strangely comforting. 🙂 I have an odd question. At any point did the eye redness seem to get worse instead of better? When my husband first removed the eye patch, his eye didn’t look that bad. Two days later, it was extremely red. I’m just curious as to why the redness wasn’t present from day one.
Thanks again for your insightful blog.
The redness of my eye never got worse at any stage. It was just a slow process of fading.
Excellent blogs thanks for sharing. I have them in both eyes but am afraid of the procedure. Was wondering if you know of any support groups or government departments that can help people with bad ones , and the discrimination that comes with having eyes that look so bad.
I can’t help you with info regarding support groups. As for people discriminating because your eyes look bad … I didn’t experience any of that, but a person who did that would be a person you should ignore. Their attitude problem would be much greater than your eye problem.
I’m so happy I have found your story. I just got my “bubble” as I called it, removed on Tuesday and i can’t stop wondering if this is normal, did I do the right thing, etc.
I will keep reading your story to remind myself that it’s going to be OK!
Thank you for this. I am week 7 post surgery and our experience was very similiar. I was on here tonight trying to find out if the pink will ever go away. Looks like it will but I have another 6 weeks or so to go. Thank you!
Hi Lindsey, I’m also about 8 weeks post surgery and my eye is still very red. Has ur redness subsided yet?
My husband had the same surgery twice. First time he healed fairy quickly , but it came back 4 years later. He had it removed again almost two months ago. He seems to be healing, pretty slowly. What bothers us is that his eye is very droopy, almost shut. We talked to the surgeon and his response was, ” you might need eyelid surgery “! Not very happy with the results…
Thank you so much for taking the time to document your recovery! I have a pterygium and it’s now affecting my vision. I’m petrified of having the surgery, not so much the surgery as I am the recovery! I cannot find a Dr. that is comfortable doing the surgery, so therefore I continue to put it off! Hopefully, your eye has completely healed? Has the white come back clearly or is it scarred and still murky? I got my hopes up when you said the surgery only lasted 10 mins.,but your recovery is making me nervous! Are you confident your Dr. did a good job? Just wondering… I’m still looking for a good one! Thanks again!
Thank you for your reply and updating!! Ok so this gives me hope- I am on day 41 and I see your eye was also still red at that point. Did the graft ever blend with the rest of your eye? That is my main concern- there’s a huge bump in my eye where graft was tucked in and it looks weird. My doc said it would blend and become even but far from it. Thanks!!
Hi! Can I ask you what your eye looks like now? Did it fully heal and did all redness subside? I has a similar surgery 6 weeks ago and my eye still looks red and there’s a huge bump where the dr tucked the graft in- it looks horrible and wish I never did the surgery now. There is not much info online so was glad to find your post. Any insight you can provide would be great. Thanks!
Sarina, how is your eye. I have the same situation that you presented. I an in week 3 after surgery.