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Surfer's Eye: Pterygium Treatment and Removal

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A pterygium (also known as Surfer's Eye)is a “pinkish-yellow, triangular-shaped tissue growth starting from the nasal area of your eye and grows towards the cornea (front, clear window of the eye). This lesion can be varied in its appearance from small and pink to large and angry red with symptoms of dry eye, cosmetically unacceptable appearance and or affecting vision adversely.“

The general cause of pterygia is believed to be excessive exposure to sun and wind (familiar atmosphere for surfers and ocean lovers); however, genetics has been cited as a major determiner as well.

Pterygium Symptoms include:

-Deep red or pink color on the inner corner of the eye

-Gritty or dry feeling in the eye

-Tired eyes

Surfers and outdoor enthusiasts worldwide suffer from this condition, but although pterygia are among the oldest recorded eye diseases, there is no cure. There is no natural remedy to make the problem go away. Doctors usually advise patients to simply “deal with it”, since there is no immediate danger to your vision until the tissue grows very close to or over the pupil. At that point, surgery is the only option.

Pterygium Treatments include:

-Liberal use of artificial tears

-Avoiding excessive sun, wind, and dust

-Surgery!

Here is where I must share my own experience with this problem. As a surfer for more than 25 years, I have suffered from pterygia in both eyes for about 20 of those years. I have found that while doctors term this condition “benign”, there is a psychological effect that comes with having extremely red, irritated, and tired eyes all the time. If you have the problem, then you know what I mean. It’s human nature for others to stare and be amazed as well as disgusted by the red stripes across your eyes. These reactions can be a confidence destroyer in inter-personal situations and can ruin your day.

I have gone the artificial tear route and found no relief. I even had surgery to remove them (twice in one eye and once in the other). They returned within weeks.

Here are the major problems with traditional pterygium surgery (based on my experience):

-“traditional” pterygium surgery is barbaric and painful (scalpel and stitches)

-Scar tissue often remains, so the eye still looks red and irritated

-The pterygium usually comes right back (and worse)

So this all begs the question, “How do I treat or remove my pterygium?” Just as I would recommend a surf leash or wetsuit to a reader, I can recommend a good procedure for pterygium surgery. Again, after dealing with two previous pterygium surgeries, I wasn’t quick to jump into a doctor’s office.

In fact I have kept my eyes in relatively good shape by surfing with Sea Specs almost religiously and continuing with artificial tears, but then I came across The Gulani Vision Institute in Jacksonville, Florida during my exhaustive research.

In my case, Dr. Gulani completely removed the pterygium from my right eye. He used glue not stitches as well some insane stem cell technology to patch the wound. My eye looked white and smooth IMMEDIATELY a day after the surgery. While my recuperation time (which included some pain and swelling) was a little longer than my previous surgeries (because of my advanced condition), I write this article with a completely white and healthy eye. I had the surgery done in November, 2007, but as long as I haven’t updated this text saying that the pterygium has returned, you can assume I am still healthy and happy with the results.

Here it is September, 2008: There are some small veins creeping in but no pterygium. In honesty, I have been surfing every hint of a swell and pushing my kid into waves all summer, so I haven't exactly been following doctor's orders. Dr. Gulani is concerned and has asked me to stop surfing...awkward silence follows...So far, my eye is still 100% better than it was, but I need to slow down a bit because the Doc sees some precursors to the disease coming back. Again, I will keep you updated.

New update (10/21/08): My eye is looking a bit more red. Again, no pterygium, but the scar tissue is getting more prevalent. Still better than before but not the stark white look that immediately followed surgery. Some veins are moving in from below the eye. I'll keep checking back.

Here it is February, 2009: I've pulled back on the surfing a bit lately with winter temperatures still low and weak wave activity. In honesty, my eye is still better than it was, but the scar tissue over the edge of my iris is becoming more visible. It is, at least, white and not blood red. Still not as bad as previous condition, but still changing. Again, I will keep you updated.

It's July 6th, 2009, and I have bad news. While no pterygium has formed on the inner-eye area where I had the surgery (It's looking quite good actually.), a new one has formed on the outer ear-side of my eye. Uhg! I think once the switch is turned on, there's no stopping these things. I have started taking Restasis which has really helped the redness. I wish I would have used it years ago. Anyway, good luck to everyone.

July 7th, 2010: the pterygium on the ear side of my right eye has gone into high gear and looks quite bad. The surgery site still looks good, but this new one is really annoying.I have stopped the Restasis as it obviously has not helped and it's VERY expensive.

March 19th, 2012: The new Pterygium is still bugging me, but the surgery site is still clear. It seems that when these things form in the outer (ear side) of the sclera, there much more discomfort. I am still surfing and trying Theratears vitamin supplements which are packed with fish and flax oils. They are helping, but the problem remains.

I encourage you to continue researching your personal options, but here is a link to the Gulani Vision Institute to give you another avenue to consider. There you can read up on his techniques and approach to pterygium removal. Also, there are many doctors who perform this surgery across the country, so do some leg work and find the right doctor.

If you’d like to discuss your experience with pterygia, feel free to email me at surfing@aboutguide.com or go to the forums and post a comment or question.

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