A pterygium is also known as Surfer's Eye. A pterygium is a growth of tissue on the surface of the eye. It is common in warm, sunny climates, especially in areas around the equator because, like sun-damaged skin, it is caused by exposure to ultraviolet sunlight. Surfing in tropical locations exposes enthusiasts to ultraviolet light on a regular basis. Those who are involved in water sports are more likely to develop pterygiums. They occur more frequently in young males, between the ages of 20 and 40, than in females. A pterygium can be left untreated if there are no symptoms and an ophthalmologist checks it regularly. However, pterygiums can cause symptoms that require surgery.

What is a Pterygium?

A pterygium is a growth of tissue on the conjunctiva, which is the covering membrane of the eye. When a pterygium develops, the conjunctiva gets bunch up and starts overgrowing due to the damage caused by ultraviolet sunlight. It usually begins in the inside corner of the eye and spreads in a wedge shape toward the cornea, which lies over the colored part of the eye. It is noncancerous, but may recur when removed with some surgical procedures.

Who Needs Surgery?

There are several reasons why surgery may be recommended if you have been diagnosed with a pterygium. The main reason is when the tissue continues growing and begins to cover the pupil and obstructs your vision. It can also grow and change the shape of your eye, causing astigmatism and causing blurry vision. Pterygiums are not necessarily painful, but they can feel gritty, dry, uncomfortable, and cause irritation that surgical removal may correct. Another reason for surgery would be for cosmetic reasons. A pterygium looks thick and yellowish on the white of the eye, and if it overgrows the cornea it can make the iris look elliptical instead of round.

What Does the Surgery Involve?

The surgery is usually done on an outpatient basis. A short procedure to simply remove the overgrowth can take as little as 30 to 45 minutes. In this case, no stitches are used and the conjunctiva is allowed to grow back naturally with little or no pain. Unfortunately, in almost half of the cases treated with this procedure, the pterygium grows back more aggressively than before the removal. When the surgery involves grafting a patch of tissue into the place where the pterygium was removed, it is much less likely to recur. If the pterygium does continue to recur, surgery can be followed by a course of radiation therapy shortly after surgery.

What is Recovery Like for Pterygium Surgery?

Recovery from pteryrium surgery depends on the surgical procedure used. If it was a simple procedure, all that is usually required is wearing an eye patch for a day or two. Sometimes drops are prescribed for inflammation or to administer antibiotics. If a conjunctiva patch was done, the sutures or stitches dissolve after the eye is healed, so suture removal is not necessary. You are advised not to rub your eyes after surgery, don't wear eye makeup, and no swimming for two weeks. Otherwise you can return to your regular activities right away.

When you have been diagnosed with a pterygium, surgery is not always necessary. Surgery is advised when the pterygium threatens to affect your eyesight or when conservative treatments have failed. It can be a relatively simple procedure, but recurrence rates are high unless grafting is done to replace the tissue. Recovery is quick and you should be enjoying water sports like swimming and surfing in a few weeks.