Surfer's eye is a fleshy growth that forms on the conjunctiva, the white of the eye, in response to sun exposure and other irritants. This growth can become large enough to block some or all of your vision, and it's common among surfers. A whopping 36% of enthusiast surfers have surfer's eye, while only 2.3% of non-surfers are affected.
Surfer's Eye Causes
Surfers spend a lot of time out in the sunshine, but that isn't the only reason that surfers have such a greater incidence of surfer's eye. All surfaces reflect ultraviolet radiation back at you and increase your exposure, but some surfaces are worse than others. Sea foam is able to reflect back one-quarter of the sun's ultraviolet radiation, which significantly adds to your exposure. That may not sound like much, but other surfaces such as dirt or grass only reflect 10%.
The sun isn't the only cause of surfer's eye. Wind can also irritate your eyes enough to cause this condition, and when you're out on the water catching waves, you're exposed to a lot of wind. Particle irritation is another potential cause of surfer's eye. When you fall off your board, sand and salt get in your eyes, and they cause irritation. You'll need to protect your eyes from all of these factors to avoid getting surfer's eye.
Wear Surf Goggles
While sunglasses can protect your eyes from the sun, they won't keep salt or sand out of your eyes, and worse, they can fall off and get lost while you're surfing. To avoid these problems, wear surf goggles. Surf goggles are similar to the goggles you'd wear to the public pool, but they filter out ultraviolet light and double as sunglasses.
If you need vision correction, you can even get surf goggles with prescription lenses. Avoid wearing contact lenses with your surf goggles because if your goggles fall off, sand or salt could get underneath your lenses and cause irritation.
Use a Surf Hat
Wide-brimmed hats don't just protect your scalp and neck from the sun: they also offer protection for your eyes. A hat can block about 50% of the sun's rays and offer further protection for surfers. However, since you're going to fall off your board and get wet, you need to choose a hat that's designed for surfing.
Surf hats are made of waterproof or water-resistant materials, so your hat won't get heavy, soggy and uncomfortable. They also have straps to hold them on your head. For the best fit, choose a hat that has adjustable chin straps.
Avoid Midday Surfing
For added protection, stay out of the sun when the sun's rays are strongest. This happens during midday, when the sun is high in the sky. As a general rule, you should stay out of the sun between 10 am and 4 pm.
If you're on a surf vacation in a tropical location, remember that the sun is stronger closer to the Equator, so even outside of midday, you could be exposed to a lot of sun. On vacation, you may want to surf in the early mornings to avoid surfer's eye.
Surf on Overcast Days
While it's just a myth that you can't get a sunburn on a cloudy day, cloud cover does offer some protection from the sun's harmful rays. If possible, try to schedule your surf sessions for days with thick cloud cover to reduce your risk of getting surfer's eye. This isn't a substitute for wearing your surf goggles and surf hat, but it does offer some added protection.
On a very cloudy day, only 40% of the sun's rays will reach the Earth. Light clouds, on the other hand, don't have much effect according to the World Health Organization.
If you develop a fleshy growth on the surface of your eye after lots of surfing, you could have surfer's eye and should make an appointment with an optometrist. Check out websites about optometry to continue reading more about this topic.