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A pterygium is a growth of scar tissue and blood vessels on the sun-exposed surface of the eye in response to ultraviolet damage from the environment. Pterygiums are a common problem with people who spend a lot of time in the sun but fail to wear protective sunglasses. If the sensitive outer surface of the eye (epithelium) is damaged by UV rays, a healing response is triggered and enzymes are released to dissolve the damaged tissue and scars are formed. This often grows into a wing shape, which extends across the cornea towards the pupil.
Oftentimes surgery is needed to remove pterygiums and the best thing you can do is take care to prevent them before they occur. In order to prevent pterygium, you should always wear sunglasses when outside, especially the wrap around type.