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Pinguecula is a condition that describes white or yellow bumps on the eye. The bumps are growths of fat, protein, or calcium.
Pinguecula are pyramid-like growths that appear as discoloration on the conjunctiva, which is the clear, thin membrane covering part of the front of the eye and the eyelids' inner surface.
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Pinguecula and pterygium are similar conditions.
Both are linked to sun exposure. They affect the eyeball and cause eye irritation. Pinguecula grows on the conjunctiva, and pterygium grows on the cornea. Pterygium tends to be more noticeable and changes the shape of the cornea and affects vision. It also increases existing astigmatism if left untreated.
On the other hand, Pinguecula does not affect vision except in rare instances when the growth overlaps the eye’s cornea. They cause a foreign body sensation but are rarely linked to any serious risk factors.
One of the most common causes of Pinguecula is long-term exposure to the sun’s UV rays. People who spend a lot of time outside have a higher risk of developing a pinguecula. Chronic irritation, especially the kind that is caused by exposure to dust and wind, is also a cause of pinguecula.
Some people call pinguecula “surfer’s eye” because of its commonality among people who spend a lot of time outdoors in the sun and wind, as is the case with surfers. It’s also more common among those who live in tropical environments.
Warm environments aren’t the only locations that pose a risk of pinguecula.
Additionally, fresh snow is very reflective and can expose eyes to up to 80 percent of the sun's ultraviolet radiation. This means if you ski, snowboard, or spend a lot of time outside in the snow you are at risk. Just as you should wear sunglasses or goggles when surfing, you should wear ski goggles to prevent “snow blindness” and protect your eyes from absorbing UV radiation.
You can protect your eyes from developing a pinguecula by:
Signs and symptoms of pinguecula include:
Pinguecula rarely hurts, but it is uncomfortable. It’s also frustrating to feel as if something is irritating your eye but not finding anything to remove and stop the irritation.
Pinguecula is a fairly simple diagnosis from an eye doctor or optometrist. 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 that occurs when someone has pinguecula. Your doctor might order a conjunctival biopsy to rule out more serious conditions or determine an underlying cause related to the pinguecula.
There is no specific treatment available to eliminate a pinguecula, but you can do things to make yourself more comfortable while it is present. Your doctor will prescribe ointment or drops if pinguecula is causing you serious discomfort or pain.
It is possible to surgically remove a bothersome or painful pinguecula that does not clear up on its own. Some people opt for removal if they are bothered by how the pinguecula looks. Reasons to consider the removal of a pinguecula include:
Another option is to wear scleral contact lenses. These cover both the cornea and most of the sclera, which may protect from pinguecula growth and decrease irritation from the contact lens rubbing against the pinguecula.
Pingueculae do not go away on their own and do not require treatment in most cases. However, they can become inflamed (pingueculitis), during which they may appear red, swollen, or larger in size. The optometrist can prescribe anti-inflammatory drops to reduce your symptoms, but most cases of pingueculitis resolve within several days. Again, the treatment reduces inflammation, but does not get rid of the pinguecula itself.
There are several prescription eye drops available to ease the discomfort of pinguecula, and if you undergo a doctor’s examination, you’ll likely receive one of these. There are also over-the-counter drops available, including Systane Plus or Blink, both of which ease inflammation and moisturize your eyes. Most OTC products designed to mimic natural tears tend to work well and ease irritation.
Pinguecula is very common. About 10 percent of people experience pinguecula or develop a related inflammation or infection at some point in their lives. People with chronic conditions, especially kidney disease, have a higher risk of developing pinguecula.
No. In the worst-case scenario, pinguecula leads to inflammation and swelling, which can develop into pingueculitis. Pingueculitis is treatable with artificial tears and mild topical steroids. If the pinguecula does not respond to eye drops, surgical removal is an option but is rarely necessary to prevent blindness.
“Six Things To Know about Pinguecula and Pterygium.” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 28 July 2016, www.aao.org/eye-health/tips-prevention/six-things-to-know-about-pinguecula-pterygium.
“What Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye)?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 29 Aug. 2019, www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/pinguecula-pterygium.