The outdoor lifestyle enjoyed by residents of Hawaii is fabulous, but being in bright sunlight for a long time also increases your risk of pterygium, or surfer’s eye. The doctors at the Eye Care Center of Kauai, in Lihue, Hawaii, are experts at surgically treating pterygium. They also want you to know that anyone can develop pterygium (not just surfers), so if you have any concerns about your eyes, contact the Eye Care Center of Kauai to schedule a consultation – the doctors are here to help.

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What is pterygium?

Pterygium is a growth on the surface of one or both eyes. The growth starts at the corner of the eye, then spreads toward the middle. It often begins on the side of the eye close to the nose, but it may originate in the outside corner. While pterygium is not cancerous, it can invade the cornea, which causes permanent damage and affects your vision.

What causes pterygium?

Exposure to ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary cause of pterygium. It’s also more likely to develop in people who have dry eye disease and who spend time out in the wind, especially in areas where dust or sand can irritate eyes.

Pterygium is called surfer’s eye because they’re exposed to ultraviolet light from above, as well as the reflection of sunlight off the water, not to mention the wind and sand. The cumulative amount of time spent surfing throughout a surfer’s lifetime influences the risk of developing pterygium, as well as the severity of the disease once it develops.

Everyone should protect their eyes from the sun with sunglasses, but it’s especially important for surfers to wear eyewear that shields them from ultraviolet light during surfing.

What symptoms are associated with pterygium?

Pterygium may develop from pinguecula, which is a yellow spot or bump on the eye. In some people, this may be the first sign of future pterygium growth. You may not have any symptoms in the early stage, but as the growth gets larger, it feels gritty, makes the eye itchy, and may cause a burning sensation. It often becomes inflamed and red. When pterygium grows into the cornea, it can change the shape of the eye and cause vision problems.

Is surgery the only way to treat pterygium?

A mild case of pterygium doesn’t have to be treated if symptoms aren’t causing discomfort. However, it’s essential to have regular check-ups with your doctor at the Eye Care Center of Kauai to be sure it isn’t growing into the cornea. Your doctor may recommend eye drops or ointments to alleviate symptoms, but medications won’t cure the growth.

When it’s time to treat pterygium, the only option is surgical removal. After removing the growth, the area can be covered using some of the conjunctiva, which nearly eliminates the chance of the pterygium growing back and the result looks like your normal eye.

Pterygium surgery usually takes about 30 minutes. You’ll need to wear an eye patch for a few days, but most patients can get back to their normal activities the day after surgery.