In the heat of the summer season, as a reminder, I want to address the importance of UV protection. “As an ophthalmologist, I have come across some interesting cases of vision impairment that could have ultimately been prevented,” says Dr. Stewart Shofner. Patients that had pro-longed exposure outdoors as young adults are now experiencing what’s called pterygium or aka “Surfer’s Eye.” You don't necessarily have to be a surfer or ever see the ocean to get a pterygium. But being in bright sunlight for long hours, especially when you are on water, which reflects the sun's harmful UV rays may increase your risk.
A pterygium (tuh-RIJ-ee-uhm) is an elevated, wedged-shaped bump on the eyeball that starts on the white of the eye and can invade the cornea. If you have more than one of these eye growths, the plural form of the word is pterygia (tuh-RIJ-ee-ah). Pterygia are benign (non-cancerous) growths, but they can permanently disfigure the eye. They also can cause discomfort and blurry vision.
You can help prevent the development of a pterygium by wearing UV protective sunglasses or a hat to shield your eyes from sunlight, wind, and dust. Avoiding conditions such as dust, sunlight, pollen, wind or smoke can also help prevent pterygiums from coming back if you’ve had any removed.
A comprehensive eye exam can detect Pterygium or pingueculae, another type of eye growth. Typically, pterygia occurs on the side of the eye closer to the nose, but they can also develop on the side closer to the ear as well and can affect one eye or both eyes. People with mild surfer's eye may not experience symptoms or require treatment. However, large growths often cause a gritty, itchy or burning sensation or the feeling something is "in" the eye. Also, these pterygia often become inflamed, causing unattractive red eyes.
Pterygia should be monitored to prevent scarring that could lead to vision loss. If a pterygium is small, your eye doctor may prescribe lubricants or a mild steroid eye drop to reduce swelling and redness. Contact lenses are sometimes used to cover the growth, protecting it from some of the effects of dryness or potentially from further UV exposure. In some cases where topical treatment doesn’t provide relief, surgery may be required by an ophthalmologist.
If it’s been more than a year since your last eye exam or you are experiencing changes in your vision, contact Shofner Vision Center online to schedule a comprehensive exam or call (615) 340-4733.