Surfer's eye, also called pterygium, is a benign growth that can form on the surface of your eye due to sun exposure. This condition is more common among surfers than non-surfers, according to population studies performed on Hawaiian beaches. Here are four things you need to know about surfer's eye.
What are the signs of surfer's eye?
The main sign of surfer's eye is the presence of a fleshy lump on the white part of your eye. This lump tends to have a reddish color, so it can pose cosmetic concerns for sufferers.
Surfer's eye can cause physical discomfort for some people. You may notice that the lump on your eye gets red or irritated when you're in the sun or when you haven't gotten enough sleep. The lump can also be irritated by other factors, like being in rooms that are air conditioned or filled with smoke.
How does surfing cause it?
Surfer's eye is caused by exposure to ultraviolet light, and your eyes are exposed to a lot of UV light while you're surfing. Sea foam reflects about one-quarter of the sun's rays back at you, while other surfaces like grass and dirt reflect less than one-tenth. This is why surfers are at risk of this condition.
To protect your eyes, you should always wear sunglasses and a surf hat while you're on the water. It's a good idea to choose sunglasses that have a strap to make sure you don't lose them in the water.
Is surfer's eye serious?
For many people, surfer's eye is a cosmetic problem. Since the lump can be quite obvious on the eye, these cosmetic concerns can be severe.
In rare cases, the lump can grow onto the edge of the cornea and pull on it. This can distort the normally domed shape of the cornea, which will change the way light enters your eye. This can make your vision distorted. It's also possible for the lump to grow across your cornea and partially or completely block your vision.
In very rare cases, the lump can get big enough to interfere with eye movement. If you don't seek treatment for your pterygium and it continues to grow, you may find that you can't turn your eye inwards—towards your nose—any more.
How is surfer's eye treated?
If the lump on your eye isn't making you feel self conscious about your appearance or causing any discomfort, no treatment is required. Surfer's eye is a benign condition, so you don't need to worry that the lump will become cancerous.
If the lump is causing discomfort, your optometrist can prescribe topical medications to make you more comfortable. You may be prescribed lubricating ointments to apply to your eyes to protect the lump from friction and irritation. Steroid eye drops may also be prescribed. Steroids reduce inflammation, so you can use these drops if your lump becomes irritated due to the sun or other environmental factors.
Surgical removal of the lump can also be performed. This is usually done when the symptoms are severe—persistent irritation or visual impairment—but you can also have surgery for cosmetic reasons. This surgery is very simple and only takes about half an hour. Your eye will be numbed with eye drops first, and then the eye surgeon will carefully slice away the lump. You'll need to wear an eye patch for a couple days afterwards, but you can go back to work the next day if you feel up to it.
If you're a surfer and notice a fleshy lump on the surface of your eye, you may have surfer's eye and should see an optometrist, such as those at Montgomery Eye Center.