Kayaking is an increasingly popular water sport, and nearly eight million Americans get into a kayak every year. While kayaking is a fun way to explore lakes and rivers, it also exposes you to health risks. If you don't take precautions, you could develop eye conditions such as pingueculae. Here are four things kayakers need to know about pingueculae.
What are pingueculae?
Pingueculae are growths on your conjunctiva—the white portion of your eye—that are similar to calluses on your skin. These growths tend to have a yellowish color and are usually located on the side of the eye closest to the nose. Pingueculae are benign (not cancerous) and are made of normal tissues like protein and fat.
While pingueculae aren't cancerous, they can still be bothersome. You may feel like you have a foreign object stuck in your eye. The lumps can also get irritated by the friction you create when you blink.
Why do kayakers develop pingueculae?
Pingueculae are thought to be caused by exposure to sunlight. The sun's ultraviolet radiation damages your cornea and conjunctiva—just like it damages your skin—and leads to the growth of these lumps.
While anyone who spends a lot of time outdoors could develop pingueculae, water sports like kayaking expose you to more of the sun's harmful rays. This is because water reflects the sun's rays back at you and increases your ultraviolet ray exposure by a whopping 25%. This means that you need to be more careful about protecting your eyes from the sun while you're paddling in your kayak.
If you paddle on rough water and frequently roll over, you may not want to wear your regular sunglasses for fear of losing them, but this will put your eyes at risk. To protect your eyes, choose sunglasses that are designed for water sports. These sunglasses have a strap to hold them in place. You can also buy surf goggles; these goggles block UV light while also keeping water out of your eyes.
Can pingueculae damage your vision?
Pingueculae are not immediately dangerous to your vision. They can cause cosmetic problems and may irritate your eyes, but if they don't advance, they're just a nuisance.
In some cases, pingueculae can turn into pterygia. Pterygia are similar to pingueculae, but they're more serious since they can grow across the front of your eye. When pterygia grow onto the cornea, they can distort your vision. They can also block some or all of your vision in the affected eye by growing across the pupil.
Can pingueculae be treated?
If you develop pingueculae, staying out of the sun can prevent them from getting worse. You'll need to wear appropriate eye protection while you're on the water. It's also a good idea to wear a wide-brimmed hat to offer further protection for your eyes. Look for a waterproof hat with a chin strap so that you don't need to worry about losing it if you roll your kayak.
If your pingueculae are bothering you, or if they've advanced and turned into pterygia, your optometrist can treat them. This can be done by injecting betamethasone—a type of steroid—directly into the lumps. This can significantly improve your symptoms.
You can also have your pingueculae surgically removed. An eye surgeon will carefully excise the lumps, and if necessary, repair the surgical sites with grafts. After your surgery, you'll need to be careful to protect your eyes from the sun to keep the pingueculae from growing back.
If you spend a lot of time kayaking and now have yellow lumps on your eyes, you may have pingueculae and should see your optometrist for an eye exam. You can click to find out more.