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Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye) Symptoms | Signs to Look Out For

Symptoms of pterygium include a fleshy, pink growth on the eye and dryness, itchiness, redness, or irritation in the eye.

Pterygium (surfer’s eye) is a common eye condition that predominantly affects those living near the equator. This eye condition gets its nickname because it commonly affects surfers who are out in the sun and wind a lot. It most commonly affects adults, especially males between the ages of 20 and 40. 

What Are the Common Symptoms of Pterygium?

Pterygium tends to manifest itself as a fleshy, raised, and sometimes triangular-shaped growth that resides on the eye’s conjunctiva. The conjunctiva provides protection and lubrication via the production of tears and mucus. 

Common symptoms of pterygium include the following:

  • Raised, pink, fleshy growth on the eye
  • Eye redness
  • Eye swelling
  • Dry eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Feeling like a foreign object is stuck in the eye

Given that pterygium can result from more severe cases of dry eye syndrome, pterygium shares many common symptoms with dry eyes.

Rare Symptoms of Pterygium

There are less common symptoms that indicate pterygium. Rarer symptoms include blurry vision, especially as pterygium develops and spreads closer to the cornea of the eye. 

Another rare symptom associated with pterygium is the restriction of eye movement. These less common symptoms are associated with more severe cases that are not addressed properly. If you are unaware of pterygium and continue to spend lengthy periods of time at the beach or in windy, dusty, or sunny areas, pterygium will get worse. 

Less common symptoms may manifest, as the condition gets more severe.

Who Is at Greater Risk for Pterygium?

Although men aged 20 to 40 are more likely to get pterygium, this eye condition commonly affects anyone spending long periods of time outdoors in windy, sunny, and dusty conditions. Exposure to UV rays is one of the most common underlying causes of pterygium.

Older individuals are also more likely to develop this particular eye condition. It is rare that pterygium affects young people and children. Having a family history of pterygium is also among the various risk factors for surfer’s eye

Can You Prevent Pterygium?

You can take measures to prevent pterygium, and this typically entails making certain lifestyle changes that will make you less susceptible to developing the condition. Limiting exposure to UV light is the strongest measure you can take to prevent surfer’s eye.

Here are some of the steps you can take to prevent surfer’s eye:

Wear Sunglasses

UV-blocking sunglasses will help you to limit UV exposure to your eyes. If you are comfortable with wraparound glasses, these will offer the most protection. 

Wear Hats 

Wear a wide-brimmed hat if you’re spending extended periods of time outdoors and in dusty and windy conditions. 

Quit Smoking

If you smoke, aim to quit or cut back. Smoking can dry out the eyes and trigger pterygium development. Talk to your doctor about support for quitting..

Try Lubricating Eye Drops 

Lubricating eye drops (artificial tears) can help you avoid dry eyes, which has been linked to pterygium. These are available over the counter.

See a Doctor

For more severe cases of dry eye, consult with an eye doctor. They may prescribe medicated eye drops that will provide additional moisture and benefits for your eyes.

When Should You See a Medical Professional for Pterygium?

If you see any kind of growth on your eye, visit an eye doctor. Even if you suspect it’s surfer’s eye, a doctor will need to examine it and give an official diagnosis. They’ll likely simply monitor it from that point and advise on ways to protect your eyes to slow its growth.

Treatments for pterygium will generally consist of symptom-relieving eye drops that will manage this condition as well as medicated ointments. In severe cases, your eye doctor may suggest surgery for removal, although this is commonly avoided as pterygium can recur after removal. 


Pterygium: An Update on Pathophysiology, Clinical Features, and Management. (May 2021). Therapeutic Advances in Ophthalmology

Risk Factors for Pterygium in Ilam Province, Iran. (July 2017). Journal of Ophthalmic & Vision Research. 

Evaluating the Efficacy and Safety of Different Pterygium Surgeries: A Review of the Literature. (September 2022). International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health

What Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye)? (September 2022). American Academy of Ophthalmology. 

Pterygium: Epidemiology Prevention and Treatment. (2017). Community Eye Journal.

Updates on the Mechanism and Management of Pterygium: A Brief Review. (July 2021). European Journal of Medical & Health Sciences.

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