12/30/2013 05:06 pm ET Updated Mar 01, 2014

Protect Your Peepers -- The Dangerous Sun's Effects on Your Eyes

In Hawaii, we get a lot of sun. It just takes one look at the pink and white tan lines on Waikiki Beach to know that we are exposed to harmful ultraviolet (UV) rays every day. While it is especially true for island residents who enjoy taking part in water sports like fishing and surfing we are all at risk whenever we're exposed to the sun's UV rays, whether it's walking from your car to the office or driving in morning traffic.

One eye condition that I see frequently and that is directly related to ultraviolet exposure is pterygium. Pterygium manifests as benign triangular shaped growths that are usually found on the nasal part of the eye. Symptoms associated with a pterygium include redness, itching, foreign body sensation and tearing. If left untreated the growths can become unsightly and even grow to the point where they affect your vision.

If a pterygium is small is can be left alone. Irritation and redness associated with these lesions can be treated with lubricating drops or other medications. It is important to have this and any eye condition monitored regularly by an eye care professional.

If a pterygium is threatening your vision or causing symptoms that impact your daily life it can be removed surgically. During the procedure, which takes under an hour, the surgeon will gently remove the pterygium from the surface of the cornea. Sometimes a graft of normal tissue is placed where your pterygium used to be to prevent recurrence. You may suffer some pain for a few days and your eye will likely be red as the graft takes.

Proper ultraviolet protection is the best way to prevent pterygium as well as keep an existing condition from worsening. Some simple prevention methods I recommend to my patients are to wear a hat with a brim whenever you are going to spend a long period of time outdoors.

It is also worthwhile to invest in a good pair of sunglasses. One thing to look for when buying a pair of sunglasses is that they block 99-100 percent of UVB (280 to 315 nm) and UVA (315 to 380 nm) rays, which should be noted on the glasses' tag. Sometimes the tag will say "UV400," which implies that the sunglasses block rays up to 400nm.

If you are a surfer, there are sunglasses that come with straps that will keep them on in the waves. Just make sure that the lenses are 100 percent UVA and UVB blocking, and you are good to go.

At the end of the day, the best treatment for pterygium is prevention. It is a good idea to start children early and get them into the habit of regularly wearing sunglasses.

For more tips on how to prevent pterygium and how to address its symptoms please visit