Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye) most often refers to a benign growth of the conjunctiva. A pterygium commonly grows from the nasal side of the sclera. It is usually present in the palpebral fissure. It is associated with and thought to be caused by ultraviolet-light exposure (e.g., sunlight), low humidity, and dust. The predominance of pterygia on the nasal side is possibly a result of the sun’s rays passing laterally through the cornea, where it undergoes refraction and becomes focused on the limbic area. Sunlight passes unobstructed from the lateral side of the eye, focusing on the medial limbus after passing through the cornea. On the contralateral (medial) side, however, the shadow of the nose medially reduces the intensity of sunlight focused on the lateral/temporal limbus.
Pterygium in the conjunctiva is characterized by elastotic degeneration of collagen (actinic elastosis) and fibrovascular proliferation. It has an advancing portion called the head of the pterygium, which is connected to the main body of the pterygium by the neck. Sometimes a line of iron deposition can be seen adjacent to the head of the pterygium called Stocker’s line. The location of the line can give an indication of the pattern of growth.