What Is Surfer's Eye? Pterygium and Pinguecula Explained

Updated on November 24, 2016
Docmo profile image

Mohan is a physician with over 20 years experience in family medicine. He is a Fellow of the Royal College of GPs, London.

Protect Your Eyes

It is not only our skin that is affected by the UV radiation from sun exposure. Our eyes are affected, too. The white part of the eye, called the sclera, is covered by a protective layer called the conjunctiva. This layer is prone to getting irritated by the sun, as well as from wind, dust and smoke. It can also become infected, leading to a red, inflamed eye that is sticky and painful. This is called conjunctivitis. Sometimes a blood vessel can burst in the conjunctiva, causing a hemorrhage.

Protecting the eye is essential when we are outdoors. The bright light can be quite a strain for our eyes—in particular, the conjunctival surface.

There are two conditions that are frequently confused for one another. Both are growths that can occur on the conjunctiva. Although both are benign conditions, they can be cosmetically disfiguring and also cause minor, annoying symptoms.

Common symptoms Caused by Pterygium and Pinguecula

  • Redness
  • Itching
  • Irritation
  • Watering eyes
  • Gritty Feeling
  • Burning
  • Constant feeling of having something in your eye
  • Blurred vision ( more in Pterygium)
  • Asymmetry and Astigmatism
  • Contact lens disruption

Pterygium and Pinguecula: Commonalities

Both Pterygium and Pinguecula are known to be caused by damage to the conjunctiva (a transparent thin membrane that covers the white of our eye (sclera). There is a tendency to mistake one for the other . Although they are two distinct conditions, they do share certain common factors. Both can be caused by conjunctival degeneration due to sun exposure. Both appear as growths, usually on the nasal side of the eye (the half closer to the nose). Pinguecula can occur on both sides. Pterygium can also originate from a preexisting Pinguecula. Both show similar histopathological changes such as elastotic degeneration.

They can both be brought upon by lack of lubrication to the eye, such as dry eyes due to low tear secretions as we get older.

They are both benign conditions that usually need no treatment and may eventually disappear.

While they share common traits, there are some fundamental differences to them.

Case of Pterygium growing into the cornea
Case of Pterygium growing into the cornea

Treatment Options

  • Protective eyewear
  • Artificial Tears - Eye Drops
  • Antibiotic drops (only when infected)
  • Irradiation with Strontium particles
  • Surgical Excision and Autograft


Pterygium (Tur-IJ-ee-um) is a fleshy growth seen on the nasal side of the conjunctiva (between the inner corner of the eye and the cornea). It looks like a tiny comet, with its head towards the iris and its tail towards the inner corner. It is denser towards its head and gets flimsier and even transparent towards the tail, looking like a little smear.

It is made up of fibrous and vascular tissue and tends to carry little blood vessels in its wake. although it normally stays on the white of the eye, it can start to cross over the cornea and in some cases may obscure the iris and block the vision. Thankfully such aggressive growth is rare. It is slow growing and often looks like a triangular wedge with a superior and an inferior edge.

Pterygium always grows in the exposed part of the eyes, between the two eyelids.


There may be some genetic predisposition to getting this problem but largely it is due to frequent exposure to sun, sand and wind causing damage to the conjunctiva. It is common in the Tropics due to the extent of round the clock sunshine. As it is commonly seen in some surfer's it has been called 'Surfer's eye' but it is no way exclusive to that sport. Any outdoor activity that involves constant assault to the eye surface can cause this.

The symptoms of Pterygium are redness, itching, tearing, grittiness and occasionally blurred vision.


As it is a benign growth, it doesn't need removal unless it is aggressive and beginning to invade the cornea. It can be eased by protective eyewear and using gentle artificial tears regularly to improve lubrication. Irradiation and Surgical options are also available for larger more cosmetically disfiguring growths. However, there is always a chance of recurrence so long term eye protection and care are important.

Pinguecula, a yellowing nodule that can also have some blood vessels drifting towards it.
Pinguecula, a yellowing nodule that can also have some blood vessels drifting towards it.


Pinguecula (Pin-GWEK-yoo-lah) is seen as a yellow white nub on the inner aspect of the eye, close to the border between the cornea and the conjunctiva ( limbus). This is also prevalent in the tropical regions and is caused by exposure to UV radiation. This is caused by degradation of the collagen fibers that constitute the conjunctiva and this leads to excessive accumulation.


Sunlight, often refracts through the cornea and focuses on a spot on the inner aspect of the eye sideways. This persistent exposure causes the growth. It is common above the age of 40 but can also be seen between 20-40.

The symptoms of Pinguecula are similar. Tearing, redness, grittiness and irritation. Pinguecula will never grow into the cornea so does not cause visual disturbances. Although the constant irritation may lead to blurring due to excessive tears.


It is better to leave this well alone and sue lubricating eye drops that will help it to revert to normal. It does not need surgery as it is benign and not aggressive. Surgical options are available should the growth become too large and intrusive to the eye.

Differences between the two conditions

Pale grey color
Usually yellowish
Flat, wedge shaped, like a comet
Raised nodule, like a meteor
Can grow into cornea
Doesnt grow into cornea
associated with tear film dysfunction
less so
Mostly in the nasal part of the conjunctiva
Can occur on both sides, although common in nasal
More fibrovascular
less fibrovascular

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2012 Mohan Kumar


    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • always exploring profile image

      Ruby Jean Richert 

      8 years ago from Southern Illinois

      A great detailed description between the two eye conditions. Very interesting, sunglasses a must..Thank you...

    • toknowinfo profile image


      8 years ago

      Now eye understand. Very interesting hub and eye learned a lot. Rated up and interesting.


    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, youmemindbody.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://maven.io/company/pages/privacy

    Show Details
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)