Surfer’s eye – something to be aware of during the summer months

Many people have never heard of this eye condition, but optometrists warn that one in every 100 Australians develops it at some stage of their life.   

The condition is called pterygium (pronounced te-ri-gi-um, plural: pterygia), and is a fleshy tissue that grows in a triangular wedge shape over the cornea (front surface of the eye). It normally occurs on the inner cornea of the eye but can also appear on the outer cornea, and it may grow large enough to interfere with vision and cause eye discomfort.  

Why is pterygium common?

The eye condition has been nicknamed ‘surfer’s eye’ because ultraviolet radiation appears to be the main cause for its development and growth, and it’s a common condition in surfers, who are exposed to high levels of UV while on the water.  

Optometry Australia’s Professional Services Advisor Lyn Hsieh says that the risk of developing pterygium increases with age, and is more common in adult males. 

“Pterygium is a common eye condition in Australia, particularly in those who spend a lot of time outdoors,” she said.  

“Aussies who spend time in the sun – which is many of us – should be aware of developing pterygium or worsening existing pterygia. 

“These growths on the cornea can go unnoticed, but sometimes can cause redness, irritation and a feeling of something in the eye. The affected eye may develop blurred vision if left untreated.”  

Hsieh adds that those who live in hotter climates, such as the northern parts of Australia, and people who spend a lot of time outdoors, such as surfers, farmers or sailors, are more likely to develop pterygium.  

What are the symptoms of pterygium?

During the initial stages, a pterygium may have no effect on vision, but it can be unsightly due to redness and swelling.  

Although it can be painless at the beginning, some people do experience mild irritation.  

Hsieh says the key concern of a pterygium is that if it continues to grow, it can lead to vision problems. If you think you may be developing a pterygium, it’s best to consult your optometrist for a diagnosis.   

 “In severe cases, it can cause corneal scarring which permanently affects vision” she said.  

How to prevent pterygium

Wearing close-fitting sunglasses with a wide arm or a wrap-around style, along with a broad-brimmed hat, is the best way to protect your eyes against UV radiation. Also consider these three UV-safety tips: 

  • Remember to pop on your sunglasses even during the colder months. 
  • Invest in prescription sunglasses if needed – did you know that your local optometry practice can fill most sunglasses with your prescription?  
  • Make sure you are purchasing sunglasses from a reputable seller – your local optometrist will have options that meet the Australian standard 

“Protecting your eyes from UV damage should always be on your list of priorities, throughout the year,” Hsieh explains. 

To visit your local optometrist, you can use our easy search tool here 

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