The Gold Coast is a great place to live with amazing weather and a beautiful coastline. Whilst reading an article recently specifically talking about Surfers Eye or pterygium as they are more commonly known, I thought it was a good time with summer just around the corner to remind everyone (especially surfers) the importance of UV protection.
An outdoor lifestyle exposes eyes to the dangers of ultraviolet light. The sun’s UV rays can damage the conjunctiva, the clear membrane around the white of the eye. Over time, this can cause an unsightly triangle-shaped growth, called a pterygium (ter-idge-eeum). A pterygium is a triangular-shaped lump of tissue that grows from the conjunctiva (the thin membrane which covers the white part of the eye) onto the cornea (the clear central part of the eye). They often occur in both eyes, most commonly in the corner near the nose. A pterygium is not a cancer. They are not dangerous, however if they actively grow across too far they can start to distort and impede vision, by blocking light entering the pupil. They will often get inflamed and swollen with exposure to wind and sun, and will cause red eyes.
The severity varies with most growths posing only an appearance problem. Rarely, a pterygium can grow large enough to block the line of vision. Symptoms include redness, itching, the sensation of having a foreign object in the eye and blurred vision.
The best way to reduce your risk of pterygium is to protect your eyes from UV radiation and wear sunglasses or Transitions lenses when outdoors. We recommend Barz surf goggles to protect your eyes when surfing. If the pterygium is not actively growing then wearing sunglasses and protecting the eyes can often stabilize the progression. If the pterygium is stable and not threatening vision then annual observation is fine.
If the pterygium is growing too far across the cornea and interfering with vision, or if it is constantly inflamed and sore, then referral for surgical removal will be recommended. This is a relatively minor procedure done under local anaesthesia in a day theatre.
Don’t forget UV radiation can also cause cataracts and skin cancers around the eyes and contribute to macular degeneration so it is important for all of us to protect our eyes.