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Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)

Pterygium (pronounced tur-IJ-ee-um) is a common eye condition that affects people who spend a lot of time outdoors, and because it often affects surfers, it is also known as surfer's eye. People with pterygium have a growth of pink, fleshy tissue on the white of the eye. It usually forms on the side closest to the nose.

Pterygium is a noncancerous lesion that usually grows slowly throughout life. Or it may stop growing after a certain point. In rare cases, a pterygium can continue growing until it covers the pupil of the eye and interferes with vision.

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A pterygium may affect one or both eyes. When it affects both eyes, it is called a bilateral pterygium.

Pterygium is usually not a serious condition. But it can cause annoying symptoms such as a feeling of a foreign body in the eye.

Symptoms of Pterygium

Sometimes, a pterygium causes no symptoms other than its appearance. An enlarging pterygium, however, may cause redness and inflammation.

A pterygium can progressively grow onto the cornea (the clear, outer layer of the eye). This can distort the shape of the cornea, causing a condition called astigmatism. The result can be blurred vision.

Symptoms of pterygium may include:

  • Burning
  • Gritty feeling
  • Itching
  • Sensation of a foreign body in the eye
  • Blurred vision

Causes of Pterygium

It's not clear what causes a pterygium to develop. But most experts believe that significant risk factors include:

  • Prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light
  • Dry eye
  • Irritants such as dust and wind

Pterygium occurrence is much greater among people who live near the equator. But it also can develop in anyone who lives in a sunny climate. It's most often seen in young adults ages 20 to 40. It appears to be more common in men than in women.

Pterygium is often preceded by a related noncancerous condition called pinguecula (pin-WEK-yoo-la). This is a yellowish patch or bump on the conjunctiva near the cornea. The conjunctiva is the thin, moist membrane on the surface of the eye.

Treatment of Pterygium

See an ophthalmologist if you have symptoms of pterygium. He or she can diagnose the condition by examining the front part of your eye with a microscope called a slit lamp.

Pterygium usually doesn't require treatment if symptoms are mild. If a temporary worsening of the inflamed condition causes redness or irritation, it can be treated with:

  • Lubricating eyedrops or ointments, such as Blink or Refresh drops
  • Occasional use of vasoconstrictor eyedrops, such as Naphcon A
  • Short course of steroid eyedrops, such as FML or Lotemax

If the lesion causes persistent discomfort or interferes with vision, it can be surgically removed during an outpatient procedure. You and your doctor may also take into account appearance and the size of the pterygium when making a decision about surgery.

WebMD Medical Reference

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