What Causes Pterygium?

Sunlight is essential to staying healthy, but it can also create some strange issues. It is notorious for causing awful conditions like skin cancer, and it can also damage your eyes.

woman standing by the ocean

Excessive exposure to sunlight can create a variety of vision problems. Some of these include retinal damage, early cataract development, and even sunburnt corneas.

One of the more unique issues caused by too much sun is pterygium. It is a growth caused by spending too much time outside without eye protection that can cover your eye.

Keep reading to learn more about pterygium and how you can protect your eyes from developing one.

What is a Pterygium?

A pterygium is a pink, fleshy growth that grows from the inside corner of your eye. As they develop, they extend across the surface of your conjunctiva, or the membrane covering your eye, towards your pupil.

The growth itself is not due to disease, although it can look frightening and unpleasant. There is no telling how large a pterygium will grow once it begins.

In some cases, they stay small and remain barely noticeable. At other times, they can grow large enough to be obvious and even stretch in front of your pupil and block your vision.

In some cases, people can develop a pterygium in both eyes simultaneously. This situation is known as a bilateral pterygium.

While noncancerous and generally no more than a nuisance, pterygia are unappealing to look at. They can also create irritating and distracting symptoms.

Pterygia can give you constant dry eye symptoms. These symptoms include itchiness, burning, redness, and a foreign object sensation in your eye.

If the growth reaches your cornea, it can affect your vision before it even blocks your pupil. The pterygium can change the shape of your cornea just enough to cause blurry or double vision.

Ocean Surf GIF

Too much exposure to ultraviolet radiation and harsh environmental conditions cause pterygia. That is why they have the nickname surfer’s eye, but other things can also factor in.

Dry eye syndrome, irritants getting in your eyes, and wind drying them out can all play a role in the development of pterygium.

Removing a Pterygium

Removing a pterygium is possible, although it may be unnecessary if your symptoms are mild and there is no effect on your eyesight. You may be able to cope with the symptoms using eye ointments and artificial tears.

If you need help reducing the redness and swelling, prescription steroid eye drops are an effective treatment.

If you need to remove the growth because you cannot live with the symptoms or don’t want people to see it, surgery is an option.

Protecting Your Eyes From the Sun

woman in sunglasses

It is crucial to protect your eyes from the sun to prevent pterygium and other potential problems. Fortunately, there are many ways to keep your eyes safe from the sun. The easiest is to limit your time outdoors.

While going outside and getting some sun on your skin is healthy, keep tabs on how long you are exposed to UV rays. If you need to spend more time outside than is healthy, be sure you take other steps to protect yourself.

Wear Sunglasses When Outside

To protect your eyes when you’re outside, wear sunglasses. Sunglasses not only block out the sun, but they can also shield your eyes from dirt, wind, and other eye irritants.

But be sure to wear the proper sunglasses. You should only use sunglasses that are 100% UV protected.

If they do not filter out UV light, you are doing more harm than good by wearing them. Since the shades make it seem darker, your pupils reflexively open wider than they would if you were not wearing them.

This dilation lets in more light and more UV rays if the lenses do not filter them out. Sunglasses that protect against UV rays are marked, so they are easy to find in a store.

Block UV Light With Hats and Shields

Comedy Central Hat GIF by Alternatino with Arturo Castro

Another helpful shield against UV damage to your eyes is to wear a brimmed hat when you’re outside. Wearing a hat with a brim like a baseball cap or a cowboy hat in combination with sunglasses is not only fashionable. The brim creates shade for your eyes, cutting down on the amount of sunlight that can reach them. 

If you do a lot of driving, look into applying a protective film to your side windows that block out UV light.

If you spend a lot of time in dry climates, frequently use eye drops to keep your eyes moist. This won’t protect you from the sun but it will keep your eyes lubricated and hydrated, which is essential for healthy vision.

Generally, keeping your eyes protected and healthy should reduce the chances that you develop a pterygium. But, it can still happen, no matter how cautious you are.

If you think you may be developing a pterygium, don’t worry, they are treatable and are more of an annoyance than anything else.

Do you have a pterygium and would like help treating it or want it removed? Schedule an appointment at Ellis Eye in El Cerrito, CA.

You don’t have to live in discomfort with a fleshy growth covering your eye. Treatment is straightforward, and you can begin combating your symptoms today!