Eye Health: Surfer’s Eye

Ipoh Echo’s EYE HEALTH series continues with Consultant Eye Surgeon Dr S.S. GILL talking to us about SURFER’S EYE.

Surfer’s eye is a condition where the transparent conjunctiva that normally covers the white of the eye, forms a triangular wedge-shaped pinkish overgrowth covering the cornea. This wedge-shaped conjunctival tissue is also called pterygium (pronounced with the “p” silent). It may involve one or both eyes. It may remain small or may grow large enough to interfere with vision. When someone has a pterygium, it will be clearly visible to others and is seen as a fleshy, reddish growth seen commonly affecting the inner corner of the eye.


The cause is not really known but there some observations. Pterygium occurs more often in people who are excessively exposed to sunlight and wind like those who go for regular surfing. It is therefore seen most often in those individuals who spend a great deal of time outdoors, especially those who work in sunny climates. It is thought to be due to the chronic exposure to high ultraviolet-light, low humidity, dusty and smoky conditions. Patients who suffer from underlying dry eyes may also be more prone to developing a pterygium. It is therefore also seen commonly amongst farmers, fishermen, and in those people living near the equator. Golfers who play golf without protective sunglasses may also be more prone to develop pterygium. Pterygium is rarely seen in children.


Pterygium often has no symptoms. A fleshy growth commonly on the inner aspect of the eye will be seen. It is painless except when it gets inflamed. When this happens, it becomes red and swollen due to the dilated blood vessels in the pterygium. It may then result in a foreign body “scratchy” feeling in the eye. In some patients, itchiness of the eye or a dry sensation may occur. An increasing need to change spectacle powers may also occur when the pterygium grows large because it has a tendency to induce astigmatism resulting in blurry vision. In advanced cases, the pterygium can grow over the clear part of the front of the eye (cornea). When this happens it obscures the optical centre of the clear part of the eye (cornea) resulting in a significant loss of vision.


In the early stages, no surgical treatment is needed. A person is usually advised to wear protective sunglasses whenever exposed to sunlight or windy conditions. Any underlying dry eyes will need to be treated properly in order to prevent progression of the pterygium.

In cases where the pterygium grows to the extent that it blocks vision or develops symptoms of inflammation that are hard to control, then it should be surgically removed. Should surgery be done, the surgical outcome is usually good in most patients. However, a pterygium may return after it is removed. Wearing protective sunglasses and a broad hat to prevent the exposure to sunlight is advised.

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