As the warm weather continues, we break out the bathing suits and towels and hit the beach, local pool and lake. We’ll spend endless days basking in the beautiful sun, lathered in sun screen.
So you’ve got your skin covered, which is great! But what about your eyes? What are you doing to protect your very frail and sensitive eyes? Many people exposed to excessive sunlight develop surfer’s eye, otherwise known as a pterygium (pronounced: tuh-RIJ-ee-uhm).
You don’t have to be a surfer to get surfer’s eye. Anyone who doesn’t protect their eyes this summer is putting themselves at risk.
What could be so bad about surfer’s eye? We associated surfing with summer and fun times, but there isn’t anything fun about surfer’s eye, or a pterygium. A pterygium sounds a little more concerning.
Surfer’s eye, simply put, is a growth on the eye. A wedge shaped bump grows on the white part (sclera) of the eye and obstructs the cornea. Though these growths are not cancerous, they can cause discomfort, permanent disfigurements in the eye, and if left untreated, they can cause blurred vision and vision loss.
The pterygium will often form on the side of the eye. More often than not, it will form on the side closest to the nose, but it isn’t impossible to form on the outside of the eye, near the ears. The growth can affect one or both eyes. If the pterygium continues to grow, it will grow inward towards the center of the eye.
There are little symptoms associated with surfer’s eye. Most people with mild surfer’s eye will experience no symptoms at all.
However, if your pterygium continues to grow in the eye, it can cause burning and itching. As it grows bigger, many have experienced foreign body sensation. In other words, it feels like something is in the eye but you can’t get it out.
If the growth becomes inflamed it can cause red eye as well as pose a threat to the cornea. When the cornea is heavily invaded by the growth, it can change the shape of the eye, leading people to develop astigmatism.
Surfer’s eye does not exclusively affect surfers. The condition most likely gets its name from the fact that water plays a significant part in causing the condition.
Being exposed to sunlight for long hours at a time will increase your chance of developing surfer’s eye. Being on the water for hours on end, whether you’re surfing, boating, or just lazing around on an inflatable chair doubles your risk as the water reflects harmful UV rays back onto your eyes.
However, UV rays are not the only ones to blame. Surfer’s eye can also be caused by dust and wind. These can also cause dry eyes on top of surfer’s eye. Generally, surfer’s eye affects people aged 30 to 50 years old. It is a condition rarely seen in children.
If you find yourself with a pterygium growth on your eye, don’t panic. For the most part they are harmless. Keeping an eye out for any changes or growth in the pterygium is crucial no matter the size of the growth. Your doctor can help you make sure your condition isn’t worsening.
Most people with mild cases of surfer’s eye don’t even notice the growth. A mild pterygium won’t cause any pain or foreign body sensation. However, lubricants or a mild steroid eye drop may be prescribed by your doctor to reduce inflammation and redness in the eye.
If your pterygium continues to grow and cause blurred vision, your doctor may recommend pterygium removal surgery. Removal surgery is often used as a last resort. The surgery takes no more than 30 minutes and you’ll need to wear an eye patch for a few days while your eye recovers.
Pterygium removal surgery comes with heavy complications, which is why it is considered last by doctors. The growth can come back as a more aggressive growth in the eye. Surgery is really only considered if your eyesight is at risk of diminishing, otherwise the lubricants often get the job done.
Protect Yourself from Surfer’s Eye
Protecting your eyes from a pterygium growth is one of the easiest things in the world. You won’t need to remember crazy regimens or make any drastic lifestyle changes. It’s as easy as buying a pair of sunglasses.
A great pair of sunglasses with UV ray protection will prevent any growth from forming on your eye. Make sure you aren’t just buying tinted sunglasses. Without UV ray protection, your sunglasses are nothing but a fashion accessory. Save those ones for indoor use.
If you’re an avid beach goer or pool swimmer, you might want to consider wrap-around, UV ray protection sunglasses. These sunglasses will protect your eyes from every angle, including rays being reflected off the water from beneath your eyes. This is great for those really active people who play water sports.
Wrap-around sunglasses will also protect your eyes from dust and wind. You decrease your risk of developing surfer’s eye and dry eyes significantly with wrap-around sunglasses.
Another way to protect your eyes is to wear a hat. A wide brimmed hat will give you an extra layer of protection. A hat will protect against UV rays and UV light. Not to mention it will protect your face from getting those awful tan lines around your eyes.
As the sun hugs you with it warmth and forces us to cool down in the ocean or pool, remember that your eyes need as much protection as any other part of your body. Pack that beach bag with sun screen, UV ray sunglasses and your favorite hat!
It would be a shame to have to spend these gorgeous summer days indoors because of the sun. Don’t let the sun control your summer! You can have your cake and eat it too with the proper eye protection.