The other day, I was talking with a client during session. She is a linguist and avid amateur anatomist.
I don’t remember the exact context, but she suddenly blurted out the word “pterygium.”
Neither of us could think of its meaning, although we were sure it related to those pesky pterygoid muscles.
We were both wrong, so it led to this exploration.
A pterygium (the p is silent: pronounced tur-IJ-ee-um) is a growth of pink, fleshy tissue on the conjunctiva, that’s the clear tissue that lines the eyelids and covers the eyeball. It’s the main symptom of a condition called “surfer’s eye” and usually forms on the side of the eye closest to the nose and grows toward the center. When it affects both eyes, it’s known as a bilateral pterygium.
Before a pterygium appears, a related condition called a pinguecula (pin-GWEK-yoo-la) may occur. This is a yellowish patch or bump on the conjunctiva.
Etymology tidbit: pterygoid comes from the Greek word pteryx, meaning wing and morphs from there to referring to a triangular shape, so:
A pterygium is a triangular growth usually in the inner corner of the eye and
The pterygoid muscle(s) attach to the pterygoid process (triangular in shape) of the sphenoid bone.