Paddle Healthy | Eye Health | Part II
In Part I of our Paddler Eye Health series, optometrist and waterman Dr. Bill Petersen O.D. shared about the effects of various elemental exposures on our eyes and how to protect them while outdoors. Now, we're taking a look at some common eye conditions, how they effect our eyes and vision, and what we can do to prevent them. —Shari Coble
Solar Keratitis, also known as, Ocular Sunburn
As paddlers, solar keratitis is a condition we need to know about: We're exposed to direct UV light from the sun, as well as its reflection off the water, and even the reflection off the surface of our SUPs. "Sunburn on the surface of the cornea causes the surface epithelial cells to peel off," says Dr. Petersen. "This exposes underlying fragile tissues and nerve endings," Petersen continues, "It can be very painful and debilitating. Healing can take several days of painful, blurred vision, and light sensitivity (photophobia)." So, don't forget your sunglasses or protective contact lenses whenever you're hitting the water.
"A small yellowish growth on the white of the eye, pinguecula usually appear on the nasal side of the cornea," Dr. Petersen says. Pinguecula is benign and is usually caused by various factors, including tissue changing in your eye, elemental exposure, etc. "This is more cosmetic than anything else and will not grow over the cornea and block vision," says Dr. Petersen, but in rare cases, it can cause some discomfort.
Also known as Surfer's Eye, "a pterygium is a very vascular (a lot of blood vessels), fleshy growth on the white of the eye that will grow over the surface of the cornea and block vision," says Dr. Petersen. They're caused primarily by prolonged exposure to UV light, other elemental exposure, or even dry eye (See Part I). "These have to be surgically removed when they get close to the pupil of the eye," Dr. Petersen says, as they can cause astigmatism, discomfort, and inflammation.
Generally common, "this is the clouding of the lens inside the eye," Dr. Petersen continues, "As we age, the lens in our eye first gets hard so we can’t focus anymore—which is why people over the age of 40 need reading glasses. Then, the lens goes from being crystal clear to yellow," Dr. Petersen says. "This occurs around the age of 50, and we don’t notice it because it happens so gradually.
"As we get older, the lens will get yellower and yellower; this is called a morgagnian cataract and is usually very slow-growing. Other cataract develop more quickly and are removed surgically, then replaced with an artificial lens," says Dr. Petersen. "Cataracts are believed to be caused in part by UV exposure."
"This disease is the one I’m most concerned for standup paddlers," Dr. Petersen says. "Macular degeneration can be devastating, as it destroys your central vision." And, it's not very uncommon as, according to Dr. Petersen, "37 percent of Americans over the age of 85 have this disease. UV exposure, a high-fat diet, smoking cigarettes, and family history are some of the risk factors.
"There are no early symptoms and it's caused by the cumulative effect of UV over our lifetime," Dr. Petersen says. "There is limited treatment for this disease, but generally, patients who get this are reasonably healthy otherwise."
Part 1 of the Paddle Healthy Eye Series