Surfer’s eye is a benign growth on the cornea. Known in scientific circles as pterygium, the condition is caused by prolonged exposure to sun, wind, dust, or pollen. It develops over time as a small, pink, triangular growth, starting from the eye’s inner corner. While surfer’s eye is not harmful, it can irritate and sometimes affect vision. It is easy enough to manage the condition once a doctor has made a diagnosis.
Symptoms of surfer’s eye include redness, itchiness, and irritation on the surface of the eye, stemming from the inner corner in a triangular shape. Blurred, impaired vision, or the feeling of having a foreign particle stuck in the eye, are also common with large growths, and depending on the location, a large pterygium may prevent people from comfortably wearing contact lenses.
Diagnosis of Surfer’s Eye
An eye doctor can identify surfer’s eye with a physical exam using a magnifying light known as a slit lamp” Usually that is all that is required for a diagnosis, but in some cases the doctor may also rely on a vision test or perform corneal topography, which maps the surface of the eye so he or she can spot any changes.
Lack of Symptoms
Sometimes, eye doctors note surfer’s eye in patients who have not experienced any symptoms. These lesions often appear without pain or any effect on eyesight. Fortunately, an asymptomatic pterygium doesn’t require any treatment. If surfer’s eye begins to bother someone for cosmetic reasons, he or she can consider having it removed surgically, but the risk of scarring and regrowth may not be worth it.
Treatment of Surfer’s Eye
If surfer’s eye causes pain or vision problems, the eye doctor will likely recommend drops as a treatment. Over-the-counter drops for dryness or redness and irritation may help ease symptoms. If those don’t work, the doctor can prescribe stronger steroidal drops, as well. Outpatient surgery to remove the growth is an option for severe cases. The procedure typically involves removal of the affected portion of the eye and grafting tissue from elsewhere to replace it.
A pterygium may be cosmetically unpleasant, but this benign growth is not dangerous. If an individual does not experience pain or irritation, treatment isn’t necessary — but doctors may recommend eye protection and moisturizing drops to prevent the growth from getting worse. Surfer’s eye may clear up on its own over time, or turn into a life-long condition, but either way it should not interfere with most activities unless it begins to encroach on vision.
Prevention Tip: Sun Protection
Because surfer’s eye develops due to exposure to sun or wind, it makes sense that surfers and other individuals who spend a lot of time outdoors are more vulnerable to developing them. If that’s you, consider investing in high-quality sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection to reduce your chances of growths. However, everyone who spends time outside should protect their eyes from harmful ultraviolet rays.
Prevention Tip: Dust Protection
Eyewear isn’t just for sunny days. Make sure you wear eye protection whenever working with materials that create tiny particles, including dust from construction, carpentry, or home improvement, ground herbs and spices, or even pollen. If your eyes are exposed to such substances, rinse them with fresh water to remove irritating particles.
Prevention Tip: Avoid Dry Air
Hydration is crucial in preventing surfer’s eye. Even if you don’t spend your days in bright sunlight or windy conditions, your eyes still might be drying out due to the dry air in your home. Whether you’re heating or cooling your air, chances are it’s drier than your eyes would like. You can combat the dryness by using a humidifier to inject moisture back into your environment.
Prevention Tip: Eye Drops
To prevent or soothe surfer’s eye, try using moisturizing drops or mist to keep your eyes hydrated. Dry eyes are less able to clear out foreign particles from the surface (think of trying to clean up a dried spill without a spray cleaner), so using drops designed to improve hydration can both ease the irritation and prevent one from developing in the first place.
A pterygium is similar to — but not the same as — other eye growths such as pinguecula. Where a pinguecula is a small, yellow spot on the conjunctiva, pterygium grows from the inner corner of the eye in a pink triangle and may eventually become large enough to cover the cornea, affecting vision. A pinguecula can turn into a pterygium but not the other way around. Fortunately, both conditions can be prevented in many cases by proper eye protection.