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8 Ways to Protect Yourself From Surfer’s Eye or Pterygium

We often hear about the harmful effects ultraviolet (UV) radiation has on our skin, but did you know it can also harm our eyes? It’s easy to overlook, but surfer’s eye (or pterygium) is a reminder that UV rays can affect our eyesight, too.

While surfer’s eye tends to affect those who catch waves every day, it can also affect those who enjoy spending a lot of time outdoors. Read on to learn more about its causes, symptoms and, most importantly, how to protect your eyes. 

What is surfer’s eye (pterygium)?

Surfer’s eye is a growth of tissue on the white of the eye (sclera) that extends to the outer layer of the eye (cornea). 

“Surfer’s eye appears as a raised, pale, fleshy, triangle-shaped growth on the eye's surface,” said Roy Swanson, MD, an ophthalmologist with Banner – University Medicine. “They are more common closer to the nose but may develop on the outer corner as well.”

While anyone can develop it, certain factors can increase your risk:

  • UV exposure: The primary cause of surfer’s eye is unprotected exposure to UV rays, specifically UV-B radiation. 
  • Frequent outdoor activities: Working or spending a lot of time outdoors, especially in dusty, windy and dry conditions, can increase your risk for surfer’s eye. Surfers are often exposed to windy conditions and ocean spray, which can irritate the eyes.
  • Geographic location: Living closer to the equator or in sunny climates (such as coastal regions) are at a higher risk. 

How does surfer’s eye affect vision?

People with surfer’s eye may experience redness, dryness, irritation and a gritty feeling in the eyes due to the growth of the tissue. Over time, the tissue can grow, causing blurred vision or changes (distortions) in vision.

“If left untreated, surfer’s eye can distort the cornea so much that glasses cannot correct the vision,” Dr. Swanson said. “In severe cases, the pterygium may cover the cornea and physically block the light from entering the eye.”

Although surfer’s eye is a non-cancerous growth, UV radiation can also increase the risk of cancers on the surface of the eyes. This is why it’s important to see an eye care professional for any growth on your eye.

How is surfer’s eye treated? 

If your provider diagnoses you with surfer’s eye, you may be treated with various methods depending on the size, symptoms and severity of your condition. 

“For irritation and redness, we treat the eyes with lubricating eye drops and sometimes with anti-inflammatory drops,” Dr. Swanson said. “If the growth is large and causing vision problems, then surgery can be performed to carefully remove the pterygium from the surface of the eye.”

Surgery is highly successful but recurrence can still happen, especially without proper eye protection post-surgery.

Ways to prevent surfer’s eye

The good news is that there are several steps you can take to protect your eyes and avoid developing surfer’s eye:

  • Wear sunglasses: Choose sunglasses that provide 100% protection against both UVA and UVB rays. This helps reduce UV exposure to your eyes when you’re outdoors.
  • Use protective eyewear: When working or participating in outdoor activities that expose you to wind, dust or debris, wear protective eyewear or goggles to shield your eyes.
  • Wear hats or visors: Wearing wide-brimmed hats or visors can provide additional protection by shading your eyes from direct sunlight.
  • Take breaks: If you spend a lot of time outdoors, especially during peak sunlight hours, take regular breaks in shaded areas to give your eyes a rest.
  • Use lubricating eye drops: When in dry, windy or dusty areas, use over-the-counter (OTC) eye drops to keep your eyes lubricated with artificial tears.
  • Stay hydrated: Drinking plenty of water throughout the day can help eye moisture and prevent dryness.
  • Avoid rubbing your eyes: When your eyes feel itchy or irritated, use a clean, damp cloth to gently clean them instead of rubbing them with your fingers.
  • Protect your vision: Schedule regular eye exams with an eye care provider (an optometrist or ophthalmologist) to monitor your eye health and detect any signs of surfer’s eye or other eye conditions early on.


Surfer’s eye, or pterygium, is a condition that can affect anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors, not just surfers. By taking proactive steps to protect your eyes from UV radiation and other environmental factors, you can reduce your risk of developing this condition.

If you experience any symptoms of surfer’s eye or have concerns about your eye health, see an eye care provider or a Banner Health eye specialist. 

For more ways to care for your eyes, check out:

Eye Care Safety Wellness