We hear over and over again about the damage the sun can do to our skin, but it may be news to some that the sun can also cause troublesome growths on the eye.
Commonly known as surfer’s eye, pterygium is a pinkish growth over the cornea — the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of your eye. Although not dangerous, it can cause discomfort and affect your vision.
“We don’t really know why pterygium occurs, but believe it is associated with sun exposure,” says Dr. Bishoy Said, a board-certified ophthalmologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group. “It is found mostly in those who live close to the equator. Although it is called surfer’s eye, we actually see it more in those who work outdoors than those who surf.”
Surfer’s eye appears as a winged-like, fleshy growth on the eyeball and usually forms closest to the nose. It sometimes begins as a yellowish spot in a single eye or both eyes, and can cause a variety of symptoms, including:
- Burning or itching
- Increased tearing
- Blurred vision
According to Dr. Said, some pterygia stop growing on their own. However, if left untreated, some may change the shape of the cornea and lead to astigmatism, which can then cause decreased vision.
There are ways to minimize the risk of surfer’s eye; limiting your exposure to sun, wind, dust and low humidity are the most important.
Dr. Said also recommends:
- Using artificial tears or other lubricating eye drops
- Applying a moist, warm compress to your closed eyelids
- Always wearing 100 percent UV-blocking sunglasses when outdoors or in a car
- Using protective eyewear when exposed to dust or other irritants
- Wearing wide-brimmed hats when outdoors
If the condition becomes too uncomfortable or your vision is affected, your doctor can prescribe prescription eye drops or remove the growth with surgery, which is usually done as an outpatient procedure. However, the growth can return post-surgery if you are not extremely careful about protecting your eyes, especially in the first 12 months following treatment.
Talk with your doctor if your eyes become red, irritated or dry, or if you notice the development of yellow or pinkish growths, which could be signs of surfer’s eye. Together, you can develop a plan to prevent further growth and, if necessary, treat your eye condition.
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