North County Laser Eye Associates

Surfer’s Eye: Pterygium Causes and Treatment

From comprehensive eye exams to treatments for a variety of eye diseases, North County Laser Eye Associates is your one-stop shop for all of your eye care needs. We are particularly proud to offer treatments for eye conditions that are common to our Southern California patients, who spend a lot of time outdoors, especially at our beautiful, sunny beaches. Among the eye conditions that we most frequently treat are pterygium, popularly known as surfer’s eye.

Although pterygium is particularly common among surfers, and therefore particularly common among residents of Southern California, it can occur in anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, especially those who fail to protect their eyes from the sun. While pterygium is not usually a serious condition, it does affect the appearance of the eyes and can eventually affect a person’s vision, as well. Fortunately, pterygium treatment is available at our San Diego eye care center.

What is a pterygium?

A pterygium is an abnormal growth, usually pink, that appears on the white portion of the eye. It can occur on one eye or on both eyes, usually in the corner of the eye near to the nose. The growth often takes the shape of a wedge, similar to a slice of pie. It is non-cancerous and generally harmless; however, it can continue growing over the course of a lifetime. In such cases, it may eventually extend to the pupil and onto the cornea, at which point it will interfere with vision and require more aggressive treatment.

What causes a pterygium to form?

The exact causes of pterygia are unknown; however, they seem to be primarily environmental. Prolonged exposure to the elements, and to ultraviolet light, dust, wind, and dry climates in particular, is linked to an increased risk of developing a pterygium. People who spend a lot of time outdoors, either at sea or in dry, dusty environments, tend to develop pterygia more frequently than the general population. People who smoke and who have light skin and light eyes in addition to spending a lot of time outdoors are at even greater risk.

What are the symptoms of pterygia?

In many cases, pterygia do not produce symptoms. In most cases in which symptoms are present, they are usually mild. The most common symptom is the sensation of a foreign object being present in the eye. Other symptoms include redness, burning, itchiness, and irritation. In extreme cases, vision can become impaired, and the cornea can even become scarred, resulting in permanent vision loss.

How is a pterygium treated?

In mild cases, especially those in which no symptoms are present, there is really no need to seek treatment for a pterygium. Lubricating eye drops can be used to relieve any slight, occasional discomfort or redness.

However, if symptoms are present or become persistent, treatment may become necessary. Our eye care professionals initially take a conservative approach to treating pterygia, prescribing eye drops that contain corticosteroids to reduce inflammation and relieve discomfort. For patients with pterygia that are interfering with their vision, surgical removal of the abnormal growths may be recommended. Surgery may also be recommended to those patients who wish to remove a pterygium for cosmetic reasons.

Learn More about Pterygium Causes and Treatments

To learn more about pterygium causes and treatments, please contact North County Laser Eye Associates today.