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Surfer’s Eye (Pterygium)

lady's eyes

Pterygium is a relatively common eye condition that is also known as surfer’s eye due to its prevalence among people who spend a large amount of time outdoors. Pterygium is characterized by the growth of a pink, fleshy, non-cancerous lesion on the white part of the eye, and normally forms on the corner nearest your nose. The growth normally grows slowly throughout the patient’s life, although it can reach a certain size and stop. In severe cases, the growth can actually become so large that it reaches the center of the eye and affects the patient’s vision.

​​​​​​​In some cases, a yellow bump on the surface of the eye may precede the development of surfer’s eye. Like pterygium, this bump is non-cancerous.

Symptoms of Surfer’s Eye

Although most patients find that pterygium is generally not particularly painful, it can be irritating and cause a feeling like there is something stuck in the corner of the eye. Other common symptoms associated with pterygium include:

- Blurred vision

- Burning

- Dryness

- Eyes that feel gritty

- Inflammation

- Itching

- Redness

Causes of Surfer’s Eye

The exact cause of pterygium is not known. However, it is most commonly seen in patients who have spend a great deal of time in the sun without using adequately protective eyewear. It has also been linked to high levels of exposure to irritants such as wind, sand or dust, and patients who have been diagnosed with dry eye. Men aged 20-40 are the most commonly diagnosed demographic, with those living in a sunny climate considered to be at greater risk of developing the condition.

Preventing Surfer’s Eye

Although there is no way to guarantee that you will not develop a pterygium growth at some point during your lifetime, there are steps that you can take to reduce your risk. These include:

- Wearing sunglasses with approved UV protection

- Wearing sunglasses when outdoors regardless of how bright the sun seems

- Wearing a wide-brimmed hat

- Using appropriate safety equipment for your eyes when working with irritants

- Minimizing your exposure to irritants, particularly dust, smoke, sand, wind and chemicals

Treatment for Surfer’s Eye

In order to decide which treatment will be best for you, we will first need to assess the size of the growth and whether it is impacting on your vision. We will also speak to you about what symptoms you are experiencing.

There are two main types of treatment – medication or surgery.

Medication for Surfer’s Eye

If your growth is relatively small and your symptoms are mild, we will likely prescribe you a course of topical corticosteroid eye drops. These will reduce the inflammation and redness, and make you more comfortable. In addition, we may also prescribe you with artificial tears, which will help keep your eyes lubricated.

Surgery for Surfer’s Eye

If your symptoms are debilitating and/or your vision has become impaired by the growth, we will recommend surgery to remove it. This is performed using a local anesthetic and should take no more than 30 minutes. During the surgery, the pterygium is gently removed, and a small section of the conjunctiva (the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the eyelids) is taken from under the eyelid and grafted on to where the pterygium has been taken from.

After the surgery, you will be given a course of eyedrops and ointments to use throughout the healing process.

Can a Pterygium grow back after it has been Removed?

It is not impossible for a pterygium to grow back, but it is very rare.

Our experienced team of friendly, reassuring eye doctors have the knowledge and skill to be able to successfully diagnose and treat surfer’s eye, and can offer our patients the highest quality care. To find out more about this condition, or to arrange a consultation appointment, please telephone our offices.