Surfing is a great sport, but as we’ve mentioned in past articles, there are some unsafe situations that can put surfer’s health in risk. Some of the collateral effects of surfing come from sudden injuries caused by the surfboards, rocks, coral, etc. However, other situations come only after dozens of years of surfing. Almost all mature surfers have permanently damaged eyes, for example. The cumulative effects from a lifetime of salt, wind, spray and ultra-violet radiation cause pterygium and cataracts. These conditions are debilitating, extremely common and wholly avoidable. It’s small wonder then that some suffer from a condition known as “surfer’s eye”. This problem with the eye is not exclusive to surfers, however, it’s actually one of the oldest known eye conditions. It’s known as Pterygium.
Pterygiums – AKA “Surfer’s Eye”: The eye has a layer of tissue covering it called the conjunctiva. Surfing exposes eyes to the correct conditions for the conjunctiva to get repeatedly irritated and inflamed. This regular irritation and inflammation causes the conjunctiva to lose control of its ability to repair and it starts to develop an extra layer of tissue which is essentially scar tissue. This new layer of tissue has the weird name, Pterygium. This is because the new tissue that grows on the surface of the eye is shaped like a wing. Apparently Pterygium is so common among surfers that it is commonly referred to as Surfer’s Eye. Some of your older surfer friends probably have it.
A Pterygium will not cause immediate blindness. When the condition is in its beginning stages the growth is mildly irritating, no more. It feels dry and itchy; you will probably want to use eye drops to alleviate the itch. As the pterygium grows it can come to cover the pupil and greatly disturb vision. At this point surgery will becomes necessary.
The best way to avoid pterygiums is to keep your eyes “comfortable”. When your eyes are dry use lubricating eye drops. Most importantly, keep your eyes protected from the sun, wind and spray. When outside wear full coverage sunglasses that offer 100% UV protection. When you are surfing you should wear surf sunglasses. Surgery is the only treatment. It can grow back in 20% of cases. Fake tears such as ‘lacrilube’ may help. There have been trials using preparations of ‘anti-growthfactor’ with variable results.
Cataracts: Cataracts are also very common among surfers. Cataracts are a permanent clouding of the lens that focuses light onto your retina. As the lens becomes cloudy vision becomes progressively worse. If left untreated cataracts can lead to blindness; cataracts are one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. The main causal agent for cataracts is long-term exposure to UV radiation. Anyone who spends lots of time staring into the blinding sun looking for waves is in great danger of cataracts. Surgery is the way to fix the problem. Doctors cut into the eyeball, remove the clouded natural lens and replace it with a new synthetic lens.
Ways to keep your eyes healthy:
- Use lubricating eye drops when your eyes are feeling itchy or dry;
- Keep your eyes protected from the sun, wind and spray;
- Wear surf sunglasses to protect yourself from the cumulative damage otherwise accrued from the most fun hours of your life;
- Wash your face, hair and eyes with clean potable/mineral water after every surf session.
For last, if you use contact lenses or glasses, you should not wear the contact lenses in the water unless you are wearing swimming goggles because you can easily lose your lenses if you open your eyes underwater. Another possibility is that microorganisms or irritating factors enter between the lenses and your eyes, increasing the chances of infections or other complications. The best thing to do is to use custom made surfing glasses (containing UV protection) so it corrects your vision problems and it is safe to use them while surfing.