A pinguecula is a yellow bump on the white part of the eye (sclera). It’s a common, noncancerous growth made of fat, protein, or calcium. A pinguecula grows on the conjunctiva, the clear membrane covering the white part of the eye.
A pinguecula usually forms on the side of the eye closest to the nose. It can also appear on the outer side of the eye.
Pingueculae are very common. About 10 percent of people experience a pinguecula or a related condition at some point. People with chronic conditions like kidney disease have a higher risk of developing them.
Will a Pinguecula Go Away By Itself?
Pingueculae don’t go away on their own and don’t require treatment in most cases. However, they can become inflamed (pingueculitis), during which they may appear red and swollen.
Your optometrist can prescribe anti-inflammatory drops to reduce symptoms. Most cases of pingueculitis resolve within several days. The treatment reduces inflammation but won't make the pinguecula go away.
How is a Pinguecula Diagnosed?
An eye doctor can diagnose pingueculae with a comprehensive eye exam.
They’ll look in your eye and determine if there are any foreign bodies causing irritation. They can also see the raised bump on the conjunctiva when someone has a pinguecula.
Your doctor might order a conjunctival biopsy. This helps them rule out other conditions or determine the underlying cause of the pinguecula.
A pinguecula may not need treatment if it doesn’t cause discomfort. However, it won’t go away on its own. Various treatments can relieve pingueculae symptoms, including:
Over-The-Counter (OTC) Medications
Many OTC eye drops and ointments can help ease the dryness, itching, and burning that pingueculae can cause. Tell your eye doctor about any OTC eye drops or ointments you use.
Your doctor can prescribe eye ointment or drops if OTC treatments don’t help. Steroid eye drops can reduce swelling and redness. They can also ease the sensation that something is in your eye.
Scleral Contact Lenses
Another option is to wear scleral contact lenses. These cover both the cornea and most of the sclera. They help prevent pinguecula growth and decrease irritation from the contact lens rubbing against the pinguecula.
However, scleral contacts that don’t fit properly can also contribute to inflammation and irritation of the pinguecula.
Surgery is rarely necessary for pingueculae. However, it may be considered if the pinguecula causes chronic eye irritation or vision problems. Pingueculitis, inflammation due to a pinguecula, can also indicate the need for surgery.
Some people choose surgical removal if they’re bothered by how the pinguecula looks.
Reasons to consider the removal of a pinguecula include:
- Growth extends over the eye’s cornea and affects vision (pterygium)
- Interferes with contact lens wearing
- Perpetually inflamed
- Fails to respond to drops or ointment
What Causes Pinguecula?
The exact cause of pinguecula isn’t fully understood. However, studies show that certain environmental factors can make it more likely to develop:
Frequent Exposure to Sun, Wind, and Dust
One of the most common causes of pingueculae is long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays. Chronic irritation from exposure to dust and wind is also a cause of pingueculae.
Pinguecula is sometimes called “surfer’s eye.” This is because it’s fairly common among people who spend a lot of time on the water and in the sun and wind, as is the case with surfers. Additionally, fresh snow is reflective and can expose eyes to up to 80 percent of the sun's UV rays.
Living in a Tropical Climate
Pinguecula is more common among people who live in tropical environments. However, frequent exposure to eye irritants can cause a pinguecula to form in any climate.
Signs and Symptoms of a Pinguecula
Signs and symptoms of a pinguecula include:
- A yellow spot on the white of the eye
- Feeling as if there is something in your eye
Pinguecula rarely causes pain. It’s possible to have more than one growth in the same eye.
How to Prevent a Pinguecula
You can protect your eyes from developing a pinguecula by:
- Wearing sunglasses and ski goggles with UV protection, preferably the kind that wrap around and offer the greatest coverage
- Wearing goggles or glasses when in windy environments
- Using moisturizing eye drops that help you avoid dry eyes
- Wearing a hat with a brim
Pterygium vs. Pinguecula
Pinguecula and pterygium are similar conditions. Both are linked to sun exposure and develop on the conjunctiva.
Differences between pinguecula and pterygium include:
- A pinguecula is a deposit of calcium, fat, or protein
- A pterygium is a fleshy tissue that contains blood vessels
- Pinguecula appears as a yellow bump
- Pterygium can be pink, red, or yellow
- Pterygium may start as a pinguecula
- A pinguecula doesn’t grow onto the cornea
- A pterygium can grow onto part of the cornea and interfere with vision
Many people find relief from pterygium symptoms with nonsurgical treatment from an eye doctor. Surgery to remove the pterygium may be necessary, but the growth can return afterward.
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