Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye): Causes & Symptoms

25 Mar 2024Eye Health & General Information

Exposure to the sun and UV light can affect the eye. One such condition that can develop is called a pterygium, also known as “Surfer’s Eye”.

While its alternative name indicates the sport most often associated with it, many other activities can increase the chances of pterygium development. Moreover, even people who’ve never gone surfing can get it!

Today, we’ll go over this condition as well as its causes. This may give you a better idea of what it is and how to lower the odds of being affected.

What is a pterygium?

A pterygium is an eye condition where a fleshy, often whitish growth appears on the eye’s conjunctiva (the thin and clear protective membrane covering the white of the eye).

This growth typically appears triangular. Sometimes, it’s also described as wing-shaped, as the name suggests. It typically has visible blood vessels growing on the surface, sometimes giving it a faint pinkish appearance.

Pterygia (plural) are typically benign and harmless, and it most cases, grows very slowly. However, it can grow large enough such that it impacts the vision. We will discuss this more below.

The symptoms of pterygia

Usually, it is quite obvious when you have a pterygium, as it is outwardly visible to the naked eye. The whitish growth is usually visible in the inner corner of the eye, but sometimes can be on the outer corner or even both corners. It can grow on one eye or both, and even if it grows on both, one may be larger and more visible than the other. 

While benign, pterygia can affect your vision in a number of ways. 

  • The most serious case would be when it gro¬ws aggressively toward the central cornea and begins to obstruct the visual axis. 
  • It can cause distortion in the shape of your cornea, resulting in astigmatism which may not have been there before. 
  • It can disrupt the tear film, causing dry eyes or irregular distribution of tears, making vision blurry

Other common signs that one has pterygium are the following:

Blurry vision, especially when the growth has reached the cornea

Dry eye symptoms

Occasional tearing up

A sense of a foreign body being in the eye

Irritation of the eye

Redness over the concerned area


Treatment of pterygia

The only way to treat a pterygium, is by removing it. This is done as a day surgery procedure and involves removing the leading “head” of the pterygium, and moving part of the conjunctiva from elsewhere on the same eye, to cover the defect left behind. This will help reduce the chance of the pterygium recurring.

As noted earlier, pterygia is associated with repeated and long-term exposure to UV rays. Hence, limiting the time one spends out in the sun may help reduce the odds of its development.

If you do have to go outside, make sure to protect your eyes from the light by donning sunglasses with UV protection. Hats or visors may also reduce exposure to some extent, but UV-protective sunglasses are better.

Consult an eye health professional about the possibility of pterygium 

Pterygium is a relatively mysterious eye condition in that we still don’t know its exact mechanism of development. However, we do know enough now to easily diagnose it as well as provide treatment, which would be surgical removal of the growth.

If you think you have or are developing pterygium, it’s best to see an eye doctor before the growth gets worse. Seek medical attention as early as possible by having an eye health professional examine you.

We can do this for you, in fact, at Shinagawa Eye Centre. Simply call us to enquire or book an appointment for evaluation.