Although ultraviolet radiation from
the sun appears to be the primary cause for the development and growth of
pterygia, dust and wind are sometimes implicated too, as is dry eye disease.
Pterygia usually develop in 30- to
50-year-olds, and these bumps on the eyeball rarely are seen in children.
Having light skin and light eyes may put you at increased risk of getting a
Treatment of surfer's eye depends
on the size of the pterygium, whether it is growing and the symptoms it causes.
Regardless of severity, pterygia should be monitored to prevent scarring that
could lead to vision loss.
If a pterygium is small, your eye doctor may
prescribe lubricants or a mild steroid eye drop to reduce swelling and redness.
Contact lenses are sometimes used to cover the growth, protecting it from some
of the effects of dryness or potentially from further UV exposure. Topical
cyclosporine also may be prescribed for dry eye.
If pterygium surgery is required,
several surgical techniques are available. Your ophthalmologist who
performs the procedure will determine the best technique for your specific
Pterygium excision may be performed
either in a room at the doctor's office or in an operating room. It's important
to note that pterygium removal can induce astigmatism, especially in people who
already have astigmatism.
Surgery for pterygium removal
usually lasts no longer than 30 minutes, after which you likely will need to
wear an eye patch for protection for a day or two. You should be able to return
to work or normal activities the next day.
A pterygium is an elevated, wedged-shaped bump on the
eyeball that starts on the white of the eye
(sclera) and can invade the cornea.
If you have more than one of these eye growths, the plural form of the word is
Though it's commonly called
"surfer's eye," you don't have to be a surfer or ever see the ocean
to get a pterygium. But being in bright sunlight for long hours — especially
when you are on water, which reflects the sun's harmful UV rays —
increases your risk.
Pterygia are benign (non-cancerous)
growths, but they can permanently disfigure the eye. They also can cause
discomfort and blurry vision.
Signs and Symptoms of Pterygium
Pterygia usually occur on the side
of the eye closer to the nose, but they can also develop on the side closer to
the ear as well and can affect one eye or both eyes.
Many people with mild surfer's eye
may not experience symptoms or require treatment. But large or growing pterygia
often cause a gritty, itchy or burning sensation or
the feeling something is "in" the eye (called a foreign body
sensation). Also, these pterygia often become inflamed, causing
unattractive red eyes.
If a pterygium significantly
invades the cornea, it can distort the shape of the front surface of the eye,
causing astigmatism and higher-order
aberrations that affect vision.
Sometimes people confuse pterygia
with eye growths called pingueculae, but they are different. Learn more about
what a pinguecula is.
Unfortunately, pterygia often
return after surgical removal, possibly due to oxidative stress and/or
continued UV exposure.
Some studies show recurrence rates
up to 40 percent, while others have reported recurrence rates as low as 5
percent. Some research even shows higher rates of recurrence in those who have
pterygia removed during the summer months, potentially because of their
increased exposure to sunlight.
To prevent regrowth after a
pterygium is surgically removed, your eye surgeon may suture or glue a piece of
surface eye tissue onto the affected area. This method, called autologous
conjunctival autografting, has been shown to safely and effectively reduce the
risk of pterygium recurrence.
A drug that can help limit abnormal
tissue growth and scarring during wound healing, such as mitomycin C, also may
be applied topically at the time of surgery and/or afterward to reduce the risk
of pterygium recurrence.
After removal of the pterygium, the
doctor will likely prescribe steroid eye drops for several weeks to decrease
swelling and prevent regrowth. In addition to using your drops, it's very
important to protect your eyes from the sun with UV-blocking sunglasses or photochromic lenses after
surgery, since exposure to ultraviolet radiation may be a key factor in
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