UV rays can cause fleshy growth on eye's surface

- Whether they're from the dollar store or a designer shop, sunglasses are often a must for Floridians. 

Most people wear ultraviolet-filtering glasses to cut glare, but they may not realize UV protection has another advantage.

Much like our skin, UV rays can damage the retina, increasing the risk of macular degeneration, but it can also increase the risk of developing a pterygium, a fleshy growth on the eye's surface. Some call the condition Surfer's Eye, but it also affects fisherman, farmers, and workers regularly exposed to the sun. 

Drops can help reduce symptoms of a pterygium like redness and irritation, but there are no effective treatments for a pterygium on the market.

"It's a nuisance and, left untreated, it can cause harm to the eye," ophthalmologist Dr. Bernard Perez explains.

The harm happens when a pterygium grows too close to the window of the - the cornea - where it can distort vision.  

You can begin to fix the problem with surgery, but removing the wing-shaped growth is just the first step.

Treatment after surgery keeps it from growing back. That begins with treating the eye with a chemotherapy drug - mitomycin C, followed by the use of a special tissue from the placenta of full term babies. 

"Once the pterygium is removed there is a glue that is applied to the eye and the membrane that's taken from the placenta of a woman," Dr. Perez explains. "Without question, it's revolutionized pterygium removal."

The FDA-approved amniotic membrane is taken from a mother having a cesarean section. When used to treat a pterygium, the tissue helps reduce the chance of scarring, improves healing and reduces the risk of recurrence from 50 to less than 10 percent.  Insurance companies generally cover the cost.

And while surgery is the final option in the life of a pterygium, Dr. Perez wants to help others avoid them in the first place, and that starts with wearing sunglasses. It's a habit that should start in childhood.

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