Surfer’s Eye: Everything You Need To Know

While surfers are obsessed with catching some awesome waves, there’s one more thing they can catch - Surfer’s Eye. And no, it’s not something that makes you look cool…it’s a medical condition that everyone should be aware of.

Pterygium, aka Surfer’s Eye, shows up as a pink or sometimes reddish area due to the growth of fleshy tissue on the conjunctiva (the area covering the white part of the eye). It starts from the inner corner of the eyes (near your nose) and extends to the pupil.

No need to get scared by the looks of it, though- it’s not cancerous stuff. In most severe cases, it causes blocked or blurred vision, irritation, discomfort, and redness and can easily be treated with a minor surgery.

The term is mostly associated with surfers but can affect people who spend most of their time outdoors. Exposure to the sun’s UV rays, dust, and other bacteria can result in this distinct eye condition. In a study published by the National Library of Medicine

“The occurrence of pterygium is documented to be 23% among black individuals in the U.S.

It may occur in one eye or both eyes. So, it’s best to diagnose and treat it at an early stage. After all, your eyes let you see and explore this beautiful world; therefore, you must be treated with care.

Keep reading the article to know what are the symptoms and causes of a surfer's eye and what preventive measures should be taken to protect your eyes. 

Why is it called Surfer’s Eyes?

Pterygium was given the nickname “Surfer’s Eye” not because only surfers can have it, but because surfers are exposed to environmental factors like dust, wind, and UV rays the most that contribute to the growth of this eye condition. Any athlete exposed to these conditions may experience it.

Who Can Get Surfer’s Eyes

Most cases of pterygium or surfer’s eyes are reported among adults as compared to children. People who spend most of their time in sunny and windy conditions are more prone to this eye condition.

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, “About 10.2% of people in the world are affected by pterygium while it is more common in lower altitude areas.” 

People who have the highest chances of catching pterygium include farmers, construction workers, and surfers. Someone with a family history of pterygium may also inherit this condition.

Symptoms of Surfer’s Eyes and Diagnosis 

The symptoms may turn from mild to severe as the time passes. In some cases, you'll experience no early symptoms before the surfer's eye but do consult an optometrist or ophthalmologist if these conditions persist.

  • Pink or reddish growth in your eye
  • Irritation or itchiness
  • Swollen eyes
  • Feeling you have something in your eye
  • Burning sensation
  • Tears and mild pain
  • Blurred/ double vision due to the continuous growth of pterygium

From the eye's appearance, it's natural to figure out you are experiencing pterygium or surfer eyes. When you visit the concerned specialist, they may use a special microscope to take a magnified view of the eye.

 Alternatively, they may perform a slit lamp exam, visual acuity test, photo documentation, or corneal topography and refer you to the ophthalmologist for further examination or surgery.  

Causes of Surfer's Eyes

Even though there aren't any sufficient studies that could determine the exact cause of this eye condition, yet a few factors may increase the chances of catching pterygium.

  1. Exposure to the Sun’s UV light.
  2. Irritation caused by dust, wind, pollens
  3. Living in places near the equator
  4. Dry eyes condition
  5. Spending most of the time outdoors


There are certain ways you can protect yourself from a surfer's eye and lower the chances of acquiring it.

Wear Sunglasses

Sunglasses are the best way to protect your eyes from sun’s both UVA and UVB rays. Look for good quality glasses with high UV ratings.

Use Eye Drops

It’s healthy to keep your eyes lubricated. You can consult an eye care provider to recommend some mild eye drops or artificial tears that suit your condition.

Protective Gear

Wear caps or a surf hat with brims to save your eyes and skin from the sun.

Avoid Peak Sun Hours 

You can find some awesome swells in the morning. It’s a good idea to ditch the afternoon sessions to avoid staying in the sun for too long.

Stay Hydrated

Drink plenty of water and fluids to keep your skin and body hydrated. Water is also great for your eye’s health.


Monthly eye examinations can give you a clear picture of your eye conditions and help you catch any early symptoms of pterygium.

How Is It Treated?

Your treatment depends upon the severity of your surfer’s eye. If the condition is not bothersome, you may opt for any of these methods.

  • Firstly, start off by putting on a hat and wraparound sunglasses to slow down the pterygium growth.
  • Over-the-counter eye ointment or lubricating drops may be advised for discomfort.
  • Decongestant drops are used for the treatment of red eyes, burning sensation, and irritation.
  • Steroid eye drops may be used for relief from itching and swelling.

What If Your Vision is Blurred?

If pterygium keeps growing and gets over your pupil or iris, it may badly affect your vision and eyes’ appearance. In these extreme cases, surgery is the only option for removal. 

The surgery may take 30 minutes to 1 hour. Local anesthesia and light sedatives are used. The pterygium is carefully removed, and the patient is made to wear an eye patch.  

In a few days, the person is back to his normal routine. It’s nothing big, but you must take special care of your eye after the surgery. Do remember to follow up with your eye-care provider to monitor recovery and address any possible complications.

Does it go away on its own?

No, once you develop a surfer's eye, it gradually keeps growing. If your eyes are not experiencing any discomfort, you may opt for ointments and lubricating drops, which may slow down the progress. However, the ultimate solution is surgery.


Even though a surfer's eye comes in the category of tumors, it’s not dangerous at all. Your eye may look a bit scary, but with proper care and surgical treatment, the condition may get better in a few days.

Do consult an eye care provider if you're noticing continuous itching, dryness, redness, or, worse, a blurred vision. Your eyes are your most prized possession. Love and take care of them.

Oliver Jones

Written by Oliver Jones

I'm a dedicated surfer and writer, and my heart truly belongs to the ocean. Surfing is not just a sport but a way of life for me. I ride the waves in the water and on paper, pouring my passion into every word I write.

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