The sclera, or white part of the eye, is covered by a clear membrane called the conjunctiva.  Sometimes the conjunctiva thickens, grows and encroaches onto the cornea, or clear tissue at the front of the eye - this is called a pterygium.  Pterygia most commonly appear on the nasal (inner) sclera but can also appear on the outside.  They are sometimes confused with cataracts, but cataracts are a clouding of the lens inside the eye whereas pterygia are on the outside of the eye.  Pterygia are not a cancer or tumor, but are mainly caused by exposure to UV radiation so are more commonly seen in people who spend long hours outdoors and/or live in hot, sunny environments.  They tend to exacerbate symptoms of dry eye.  Wearing sunglasses when outdoors is perhaps the best way of avoiding pterygia; if they threaten to extend too far onto the cornea they are usually removed surgically under local anesthetic.
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