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Signs of Surfer's Eye (And How We Can Help)

If you spend a lot of time outdoors, you may develop what’s known as surfer’s eye — and it has nothing to do with a keen sense of perceiving the best waves. 

Surfers aren’t the only ones who experience this condition, officially called pterygium. It’s fleshy, pink tissue that develops on your conjunctiva, the clear tissue that lines your eyelids and coats your eyeball. 

At Valley Eye Professionals, our experienced team of optometrists evaluate suspected cases of surfer’s eye and offer treatment to relieve bothersome symptoms. Here, we describe the signs of the condition so you know when you need to come in and see us.

Am I at risk?

People who are most likely to get surfer’s eye have had a lot of exposure to the ultraviolet light in the sun. They may have a tendency toward dry eyes and be exposed often to environmental irritants like dust and wind. 

Men between ages 20 and 40 who live near the equator are the most common patients with surfer’s eye — hence its name. But anyone who lives in a very sunny place, like here in Los Angeles, and spends a lot of time outdoors is at risk. 

Signs of surfer’s eye

Here are some signs that you have surfer’s eye:

Pterygium isn’t a serious medical condition, but it can be uncomfortable and unsightly.

Bothersome side effects of surfer’s eye

If you have surfer’s eye, you may feel like you have something in your eye. The affected eye is more likely to get red and irritated. Your eye may burn, feel gritty, and itch. Surfer’s eye may make you feel self-conscious about your appearance, and you may grow tired of people asking about eye redness.

In extreme cases, the growth can spread to and cover your pupil, indicating that it’s affecting your cornea. In these cases, surfer’s eye causes blurry or double vision because it has changed the shape of your cornea.

How we treat surfer’s eye

If you have symptoms of surfer’s eye, it’s a good idea to make an appointment at Valley Eye Professionals. We can diagnose the condition by looking at the front part of your eye with a special microscope called a slit lamp.

If your symptoms are mild, we take a wait-and-see approach. If and when symptoms like irritation and redness develop, you may benefit from over-the-counter ointments and eye drops. Prescription steroid eye drops may be required to completely ease redness, itching, and pain. 

When surfer’s eye causes unbearable discomfort or interferes with your vision, you may need outpatient surgery to remove the affected tissue. 

Depending on your case, you may benefit from one of two types of surgery. One type takes a small graft of tissue from your conjunctiva to fill in the empty space once your surgeon has removed the offending lesion. Another type of surgery uses a special medication to prevent scar tissue formation. 

After surgery, you need to wear an eye patch for a couple of days, but you can plan to return to work and most activities within the week. You will likely need to use steroid eye drops to ease any inflammation for a few months. 

You can prevent surfer’s eye by always wearing sunglasses that block 99%-100% of both ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) light. We recommend wraparound styles for optimal protection.

If you suspect surfer’s eye or another eye condition, the team at Valley Eye Professionals is here to help. Call the office, or use our online request tool to set up your appointment today.

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