Surfer’s eye, also known as farmer’s eye or by the medical term pterygium (pronounced tur-IJ-ee-um) and pinguecula (pronounced pin-GWEK-yoo-la) are both growths on the cornea and conjunctive of your eye. The cornea is the clear front of the eye, and the conjunctive is a thin membrane over the white part of your eye known as the sclera. Both the pterygium and the pinguecula are noncancerous and somewhat common.
- Pinguecula is a growth on your eyeball. It can be a bump or yellow patch on the conjunctiva, which is near your cornea. It typically appears on the side of the eye that’s nearest to your nose. Pinguecula is an abnormality in the normal eye tissue that forms protein deposits, calcium or fate. It’s like a callus on your finger or toe. Pinguecula often forms or develops into surfer’s eye.
- Pterygium (surfer’s eye) grows over the white of your eye and cornea. It’s a fleshy growth of tissue that’s triangular in shape. This growth can be small so that it doesn’t interfere with your vision or grow large enough to adversely impact your vision. The formation of pterygium is also referred to as pterygium eye. When surfer’s eye grows large enough, it can affect the cornea’s shape, creating astigmatism of the eye.
Astigmatism is an abnormal curvature of the cornea, which is the clear, round, shield-like dome that covers your pupil and iris. A healthy or normal cornea is smooth and curved equally in all directions, symmetrical to the round shape of the lens. The cornea helps the lens to focus light rays onto the retina in the back of your eyeball. If your cornea or lens isn’t shaped properly, the light rays won’t bend or refract properly, which creates a blurry image when projected on your retina. This is known as a refractive error.
Causes of Surfer’s Eye
The reason pterygium is called surfer’s eye and farmer’s eye is that it’s believed to be caused by environmental elements like dust and wind. However, it’s not entirely certain to the medical community what causes surfer’s eye or pingueculae to appear. Another potential cause of their growths is the harsh ultraviolet (UV) rays in sunlight.
For scientists and eye care professionals, ultraviolet radiation from the sun seems to be the main cause of pterygia and pingueculae to grow. Along with dust, debris and wind, another culprit is dry eye disease, which is the lack of sufficient moisture and lubrication on the surface of the eye.
Pterygia typically form in people aged 30 to 50. Pterygia and pingueculae are rarely observed developing in children. If a person has light eyes and fair skin, it may put them at increased risk for developing a pterygium. Other possible causes of surfer’s eye are pollen, smoke and sand.
Surfer’s Eye Symptoms
Surfer’s eye may present no symptoms in people who develop them other than the growth itself. Other people may experience inflammation, redness or both from the development of surfer’s eye. Some pterygia may just become thick or large and make you feel like something is in your eye, while others may become swollen and red.
A few symptoms usually appear with the formation of a pinguecula. People may experience pain or eye swelling, or they may feel irritated like something’s in their eyes. If you have regular exposure to the sun, or if you spend time in a dusty and dry environment, you most likely experience eye redness and irritation.
In most cases, the first symptom of a pinguecula is a bump or yellowish patch on the conjunctiva, usually on the side of the eye closest to your nose. Additional symptoms may include a gritty feeling in the eye, blurred vision or a burning sensation in one or both eyes.
Diagnosis of Surfer’s Eye
Your ophthalmologist can diagnose surfer’s eye and pingueculae by conducting an examination with an instrument called a slit-lamp. A slit-lamp is a microscope that gives your doctor a three-dimensional, magnified view of your eye, which allows him to observe any abnormalities in your eye. The lamp focuses a narrow line of light on your eye, allowing your eye doctor to see detailed views of the back of your eye when used with an ophthalmoscope and special lenses.
The slit-lamp enables your doctor to closely examine your eye’s iris, cornea, lens and the small gap between the cornea and iris. Your ophthalmologist is also able to precisely examine your eye in small sections, enabling an easier detection of any abnormalities.
Treatment for Surfer’s Eye
The various forms of surfer’s eye typically don’t require any treatment until the symptoms are severe. The most common treatments for red and irritated pingueculae or pterygium are ointments or eye drops. If the inflammation is more severe, a mild steroid eye drop can be used to reduce the swelling.
Sometimes, the growths associated with pingueculae and pterygia become large and cause chronic discomfort. They can even threaten your vision. In these cases, surgery may be required to remove the growths. The surgical procedure is typically conducted by your ophthalmologist in outpatient care. These abnormalities and growths on your eye are also sometimes surgically removed for cosmetic purposes.
In the case of milder pterygia, a topical anesthetic may be applied to the eye before the surgery to numb the surface of your eye. Your eyelids are kept open for the duration of the surgery as the pterygium is removed. The procedure generally lasts a half hour or less, depending on the type of surgery needed to remove all of the pterygium.
After surgery, you’ll need to wear eye protection or a patch for a day or two. If you receive this surgical procedure, you should be able to return to your normal activities or work the day after the surgery. Be aware that the surgical removal of pterygium can cause refractive error or astigmatism, or worsen the astigmatism if one already exists. Steroid eye drops may be prescribed for you to use for several weeks to reduce swelling and prevent growth of other pterygia or pterygium.
Important Reminder: This information is only intended to provide guidance, not a definitive medical advice. Please consult eye doctor about your specific condition. Only a trained, experienced board certified eye doctor can determine an accurate diagnosis and proper treatment.
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