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Light on surfer's eye: Chinese medicine & acupuncture for pterygium

older asian man looking to the side, his right eye has a pterygium

The main symptom of surfer's eye, or pterygium (pronounced tur-IJ-ee-um), is a growth of pink, fleshy tissue on the conjunctiva, the clear tissue that lines your eyelids and covers your eyeball.

It usually forms on the side closest to your nose and grows toward the pupil area in a triangular shape.

It is generally benign, and is thought to be caused by sunlight, low humidity and dust accumulation.

Most of the time it is left alone, especially if it does not grow over the pupil and doesn't impede vision. Surgery can help remove it, but it tends to come back bigger and faster.

In this article, we will take a look at Chinese medicine's perspective on the condition and how it is approached in the acupuncture clinic.

Chinese medicine : heat & blood stasis

The Yin Hai Jing Wei (Essential Subtleties on the Silver Sea) , a classic of Chinese medicine Ophtalmology, begins with descriptions of degenerative and hyperplastic changes of the conjunctiva, and the condition known as pterygium. The author describes red vessels spreading from the outer or inner canthus to the eyeball with an invasion of the cornea and an impairment of vision.

It says, “These tendons obtain blood, and they gradually spread into the black part of the eye and slowly extend to the pupil. In severe cases, vision is impaired just as if one were looking at things through a partition of silk.”

More than tendons, the growth is actually fiber and blood vessels.

  • fiber belongs to the liver

  • blood vessels are governed by the heart

  • The conjuctiva, or white part of the eye, belongs to the lungs.

Therefore, these 3 organs are the main factors in this condition.

close up of a brown eye with a pterygium growth

Heart Heat Excess

Acute or chronic condition of pterygium where the eyes are red, itchy and accompanied with a burning type sensation. There may be excessive tearing with thick tears. There is a red face, difficult sleep, yellowish dark urination and possible palpitations. The pulse is rapid and slippery.

Herbal Formula: Dao Chi San or Xie Xin Tang

Damp Heat Accumulation:

This type of pterygium has excessive amounts of discharge from the eye which is yellow and crusts at the corners of the eye. The eyes will have a warm or burning discomfort along with a red and swollen face, mild fever, body aches and possible loose stool, sores on the tongue, painful urination (stabbing) and even blood in the urine, irritability, fatigue

Herbal Formula: Gan Lu Xiao Du Yin

Spleen qi deficiency

This type of pterygium comes with diminished visual acuity, hearing loss, dizziness and light headedness, poor appetite, sweating, loose stools or chronic diarrhea, a pale yellowish complexion, pale tongue with a white coating and a sluggish pulse.

Herbal formula: Yi Qi Cong Ming Tang

For long term use or chronic conditions where there is dryness of the eye and easily irritated a formula like Qi Ju Di Huang Wan may be of use.

Preventing & managing pterygium

Preventing Pterygium

Because the cause is thought to be exposure to sun light, dryness and debris (such as sand or dust) limiting the exposure to these things should benefit.

Keeping the eye clean, moist and decreasing sunlight exposure is key to prevention.

Invest in a good quality pair of 100% UVA/UVB protecting sunglasses. Amber or brown are the best colored lenses for protecting the eyes.


New research indicates the potential for curcumin in inhibiting pterygium growth.

Scientists grew pterygium cells with curcumin, the principal active ingredient in turmeric, and found that growth was significantly decreased.

closeup of a person's eye while using MSM eye drops

MSM eye drops

MSM Eye Drops are a natural anti-inflammatory and an alternative to steroid drops, which can elevate intraocular pressure.

They help soften membranes, allowing fluids and nutrients to pass through the tissues.

MSM eyedrops also repair damaged membranes, clear up red spots and broken vessels, and help remove blemishes.

And remember, talk to your acupuncturist !


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