Pterygium: Surfer’s Eye

A pterygium is a benign growth on the white of the eye that only interferes with vision if it grows too large. Pterygium commonly occurs among individuals who spend a lot of time outdoors, as exposure to ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun, especially when reflected off of water, contributes to the development of the growth. The condition is sometimes called “Surfer’s Eye,” although it often affects those who have never surfed in their life, or even seen the ocean. Contact us today to learn more.

As with many eye disorders, researchers have yet to discover the exact cause of pterygium. Pterygium seems to result from long exposure to UV rays, as patients who live in warm climates and spend time outdoors in the sun and wind seem to have a higher risk of developing this condition. Those who experience regular exposure to elements such as pollen, smoke, and sand also have a higher risk.

Patients with mild pterygium may not experience any symptoms besides an area of raised white tissue on the surface of the eye. This growth typically originates in the corner of the eye closest to the nose. Pterygium can develop in either eye, occasionally affecting patients in both eyes. Pterygium is often painless, although if a lesion continues to grow, the patient may experience an itchy, burning sensation in the eye. The patient may also experience a gritty feeling, as though he or she has a foreign object in the eye.

Occasionally, pterygium causes inflammation and redness. If pterygium invades the patient’s cornea, it may affect vision or cause astigmatism.

Our doctors can typically diagnose pterygium with a simple examination of the eyes and eyelids, using a slit lamp. This device will allow your practitioner to examine the eye closely in small sections, making it easier to detect abnormalities on the surface of the eye. Your doctor may also take pictures each time you return for an exam, to document the growth of the lesion.

Pterygium generally does not require any treatment, unless it causes discomfort or if the lesion grows large enough to interfere with vision. Your doctor may prescribe a contact lens to cover the growth in order to protect it from dryness and further exposure to UV rays. If  pterygium causes the eye to become red and irritated, your doctor may also prescribe eye drops or ointment with steroids to reduce inflammation. If the drops fail to relieve irritation, or pterygium leads to astigmatism or loss of vision, your doctor may recommend an outpatient surgical procedure.

Surgery to remove a lesion generally takes about 30 to 45 minutes. After surgery, your doctor will instruct you to wear a protective patch over the affected eye for a day or two. Most patients can return to work and other normal activities the following day.

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