Originally published in NKCF Update (February 2022).
You don’t need to be a surfer to be diagnosed with ‘surfer’s eye’. Mix extended exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light (the sun reflects off the water) and dry, windy conditions and you might develop a growth on your eye called pterygium (tuh-rij-ee-uhm) or surfer’s eye. Remember, always wear sunglasses when outdoors to protect against UV light.
A pterygium is a raised, wedge-shaped fleshy growth that extends from the conjunctiva toward the cornea. It is noncancerous, but pterygia can cause irritation, redness and distort vision. Irritation can lead to eye rubbing, always a concern for keratoconus patients.
A related condition is pinguecula (pin-GWEK-yoo-la), a small, raised, white or yellow bump on the conjunctiva – like a wart – and containing protein, calcium or fat deposits. These patches rarely impacts vision, but in severe cases, can interfere with the tear film, resulting in uncomfortable dryness, redness, and inflammation.
Dr. Clark Chang OD of Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia, commented on surfer’s eye during Episode 11 of the monthly NKCF podcast, Chang Reaction. Asked if UV light exposure from crosslinking (CXL) could cause these conditions, he stated, “There have been no case reports in the medical literature linking development of either pinguecula or pterygia to UV-light treatment with corneal collagen cross-linking.
“While we don’t know the exact pathogenesis of these growths, we do know that there is an irritation source, and one likely source can be chronic exposure to UV-light. Because CXL is not chronic exposure, it should not put KC patients at a higher risk of developing these growths.”
Although these growths are relatively harmless, individuals with keratoconus who rely on a proper contact lens fit for comfort and ideal vision can be especially affected by new bumps orchanges to the eye’s surface. New growths could also be a sign of something more serious so it is worth making a visit to the doctor to have them checked out. Learn more about surfer’s eye by visiting the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s website, (https://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pinguecula-pterygium)