Pterygium, also known as surfer’s eye, is the presence of a murky pink tissue lying on top of the eye’s conjunctiva, the mucous membrane that covers the front of the eye and lines the inside of the eyelid. The conjunctiva helps lubricate the eye with mucus and tears and protects it from invasive microbes. You have likely heard of conjunctivitis, more commonly known as pinkeye. While this is a common ailment affecting the conjunctiva, pterygium is also a threat to the health of the eye.
What Are the Signs and Symptoms?
Pterygium often presents as a pale pink tissue lying on the outside of the eye, commonly in a small triangle shape. It is typically visible to an outside viewer or in a mirror and is on the side of the eye closest to the nose, working toward the pupil. An affected individual may experience a burning or itching sensation, redness, and the feeling that an object is in the eye. Some people with this condition experience blurred vision, but it does not occur in all cases.
Is Pterygium Different From Pinguecula?
Pinguecula and pterygium are often mentioned hand in hand. However, there are important distinctions between the two. While a pterygium is a growth of pink, fleshy tissue, a pinguecula is a yellowish patch or bump on the conjunctiva. The two are often confused, but the methods of prevention and treatment for both are mostly the same.
What Causes Pterygium?
While the cause of it is still under investigation, the fact that people who live in warm climates experience pterygium more frequently suggests that UV light plays a factor. Other elements that may play a role in aggravating or causing the condition include pollen, irritants like dust and wind, sand, and smoke.
Why is it Nicknamed Surfer’s Eye?
Surfer’s eye seems like a nickname for a wave-rider who can spot the best wave, but it is actually another name for pterygium. This is due to the high frequency of cases in surfers. The whipping wind, salty ocean spray, and bright sunrays are all thought to contribute to this, leaving these athletic beachgoers most at risk for the ailment.
How Is Pterygium Related to UV Light?
Ultraviolet radiation, or UV light, is present in the light emitted by the sun. Research shows the rays can cause many problems, from damage to the eye to skin damage and cancer. It turns out pterygium may be one of the first signs an individual has had too much exposure to UV light.
How Is Pterygium Diagnosed?
Along with potential itchiness and discomfort, the affected person will likely see pterygium developing as it is highly visible on the outside of the eye. An appointment with an eye doctor should be made as soon as the symptoms present. He or she will conduct a standard visual acuity test, such as a letter eye chart. The doctor may also utilize corneal topography to map the curvature changes of the cornea. Finally, the doctor may photograph the growth to track any changes in size and color.
How Serious Is Pterygium?
For the most part, pterygiums are mild ailments that will go away with time and eye drops or ointment to reduce inflammation. However, in severe cases, pterygium could lead to scarring of the cornea. Although this is rare, it is important to treat the condition because corneal scarring could lead to permanent vision loss.
How Can I Prevent Pterygium?
There are effective methods for preventing surfer’s eye. The most important piece of advice is to wear sunglasses with UV protection. This not only protects against the harmful rays of the sun but other natural elements like sand and wind, as well. Our eyes are affected by UV light even on cloudy days, so don’t skip out on the glasses on overcast days. Wearing a hat and avoid environments with high concentrations of pollen, smoke, and dust will also help prevent pterygium.
What is the Treatment?
Often, pterygium will disappear on its own. If someone experiences a prolonged instance of pterygium or it begins blocking vision, your doctor might recommend eye drops or ointment that can help reduce redness and inflammation. After a round of medication, if the pterygium is not going away, the individual may need surgery.
Does it Require Surgery?
If surfer’s eye does not heal itself or respond adequately to eye drops or ointments, a doctor may need to surgically remove it. Surgery may also be a good option if the pterygium is interrupting vision. It is important to note that even if removed, the pterygium can grow back. Recurrence of a pterygium occurs in between 30 to 40% of patients who undergo the procedure.