Friday, February 5, 2010

Surfer's Eye Problems

This entry will focus on issues that specifically confront surfers, but it could also apply to anyone that spends a great deal of time in the sun without adequate eye protection.

The problem that confronts surfers is related to their eye exposure to the sun and wind and the non-use of sun protection due to the water based nature of the sport. Sun protection does exist for surfers, but it is rarely used while in the water. This is due to the difficulty of keeping the protective eyewear on the head securely while surfing large and powerful waves. Even smaller waves have the potential, if the surfer "wipes out", to cause the wearer to lose the eye protective product. There is also the issue of the lenses "fogging up" as well as water droplets collecting on the surface of the lenses resulting in obscuring the vision.

It still would be better if surfers could wear eye protection. This would help prevent the occurence of various conditions that are commonly associated with sun exposure. Here are some of the conditions that are frequently seen among surfers as well as individuals that spend a great deal of time in the sun: 1. The pinguecula. This is a growth on the side of the cornea..typically in the 9:00 or 3:00 positions, that can either be caused by sun and wind exposure or can be aggravated by the exposure. These growths are elevated from the underlying white part of the eye. In so much as they are elevated, they are more prone to drying out as well as exposure. When they become irritated they can become red and can cause the eye to feel dry or "scratchy". In years past there was no recommended treatment for the pinguecula. Now there are improvements in surgical techniques that make their removal possible. If a pinguecula is irritated, relief can be obtained by the usage of artificial tears. The best artificial tears are of the non-preserved variety. Sometimes an anti-inflammatory medication can help make the eye more comfortable. 2. The pterygium. This is a growth in more of less the same area as the pinguecula, but in this case the growth actually is onto the cornea. The same conditions can cause and contribute to this problem, but the irritation can be more serious. In addition, should the pterygium grow to a large enough dimension, there is the possibility that it can impair the vision. Typically, the growth can induce an increase in astigmatism. The pterygium can also be treated by surgery. There is a risk that the pterygium can return after surgery. As a result, once surgery is performed, the patient must do everything possible to protect the eyes from sun and wind. The non-surgical treatment for the pterygium is basically the same as for the pinguecula (artificial tears and anti-inflammatory medications). 3. Solar Keratitis. This refers to an actual sunburn of the white part of the eye and the cornea. This is due to extreme sun exposure. This could occur, for example, if a patient were to spend a day skiing without wearing sunglasses. The condition is quite painful. While painful and uncomfortable, the condition is usually not serious and will abate over a short period of time. Artificial tears help to offer some relief. The patient can feel temporarily blinded by this condition as the cornea will become cloudy due to the irritation and swelling that accompanies the sun exposure. 4. Cataracts. There is a definite causal relationship between sun exposure and cataract formation. While everyone will eventually get cataracts if they live long enough (they are a normal aging change in the eyes), they can be brought on much sooner due to sun exposure. Again, sun protection is helpful in halting or slowing down cataract formation.

What can a surfer do to help avoid these conditions? The best way to protect the eyes is sun protective eyewear. There are a number of companies that make eyewear to protect the eyes even when in the water. Unfortunately, not all surfers are willing to wear the sun protection. It is also possible to wear a visor while in the water. This will protect from the sun getting directly into the eyes, but it will not really deal with reflected glare off of the water. There are also available certain types of contact lenses that offer some UV protection. The issue here is that while there is UV protection to the cornea the white part of the eye is still exposed. Again, sun protective eyewear is the best solution.

Patients that have to wear eyeglasses to see clearly can now use contact lenses when in the water doing various water sports. There are a number of products available. Many offer UV protection.

The best way for a surfer or avid outdoor enthusiast to find out how to protect their eyes is to visit their eye doctor. An eye doctor can custom tailor a treatment plan that will best suit the patient.

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