What is Surfer's Eye?

Kids protecting their eyes in sunglasses at the beach

What is Surfer's Eye?

You don't have to own a surfboard to experience surfer's eye, despite the name of the condition. Anyone who spends long hours outside is at the risk of developing a growth on their eye.

What Are the Symptoms of Surfer's Eye?

Surfer's eye occurs when a layer of pink tissue grows on the conjunctiva, the tissue that covers the sclera (white part of your eye). The growth, called a pterygium by eye doctors, usually forms at the inside corner of your eye next to your nose, but may also grow at the outside edge. You may be more likely to experience surfer's eye if you're aged 30 to 50 years or have light eyes and skin, according to All About Vision. Small growths may not cause any symptoms, but larger pterygia can become itchy, inflamed, red, and uncomfortable. Surfer's eye may affect one or both eyes.

Although pterygia aren't cancerous, the growths can affect your vision if they grow over your cornea, the clear layer of tissue that covers your iris and pupil. A pterygium can alter the shape of your eye and may cause blurred or double vision, scarring, or astigmatism.

What Causes Surfer's Eye

Surfer's eye tends to be more common in people who live in sunny places, but the condition can affect anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors and doesn't wear appropriate eye protection. People who work or play on the water may be at increased risk, as the sun's rays are intensified when they're reflected by the water. Long-term exposure to the sun may play a role in the development of the growths.

How Do Eye Doctors Treat Surfer's Eye?

No treatment may be needed if your pterygium doesn't interfere with your vision or irritate your eye. If the growth does cause discomfort or becomes red and inflamed, your eye doctor may prescribe drops that increase lubrication and decrease inflammation, burning, and pain.

Surgery usually isn't recommended unless the pterygium begins to grow over your cornea. Pterygium removal is minor surgery that may take place in your doctor's office or a hospital. Once the growth is removed, it's replaced with conjunctival tissue that's removed from your upper eyelid. Tiny stitches or tissue adhesive may be used to hold the transplanted tissue in place while your eye heals. Regular follow up appointments are important if you've had a pterygium in the past, as it's not unusual to experience a new growth at some point in the future.

How Can I Prevent Pterygia?

Wearing sunglasses or goggles that offer protection from ultraviolet A and B rays can help you reduce your risk of surfer's eye. Sunglasses should wrap around your face and fit tightly around the tops, bottoms, and sides of your eyes for maximum protection.

Sun protection is particularly important in children, as experts believe that pterygia are likely to develop after years of exposure to the sun. When your kids begin wearing sunglasses at a young age, they may be more inclined to grab a pair of sunglasses before they enjoy a day in the sun as adults.

Do you put your sunglasses away when the temperature drops? Ultraviolet rays continue to affect your eyes in the summer and winter. In addition to increasing your risk of surfer's eye, unprotected exposure to UVA and UVB rays may be a factor in the development of cataracts and macular degeneration, a condition that causes a blind spot in the center of your visual field. Wearing sunglasses offers a simple way to avoid these devastating conditions.

Whether you're concerned about a growth on your eye or have noticed changes in your eyesight, regular visits to the eye doctor can help you protect your vision. Contact us if it's time for your next checkup, or you're concerned about a possible eye problem.


All About Vision: Pterygium: What Is “Surfer’s Eye”?


WebMD: What Is Surfer’s Eye, 9/12/18


American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus: 10/16


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