A pinguecula is a growth that develops on the conjunctiva. The growth is usually yellow and tends to develop on the side of the eye closest to the nose.
The conjunctiva is the transparent membrane that covers the whites of the eyes.
A pinguecula consists of protein, fat, and calcium. It may be small and barely noticeable, or it may be large enough to cause discomfort.
This article outlines the causes and symptoms of a pinguecula. It also discusses some ways to treat and prevent a pinguecula.
People who have a lot of exposure to the sun’s UV rays may be more likely to develop a pinguecula. In fact, according to one 2019 review, pingueculae are more common in people who live near the equator, where the sun’s rays are strongest.
High exposure to dryness, dust, and wind may also increase a person’s risk of developing a pinguecula.
According to a 2019 study, wearing soft contact lenses does not increase a person’s risk of developing a pinguecula.
The main symptom of a pinguecula is a yellow spot or bump on the whites of one or both eyes. The spot may be round or triangular.
Most people who develop a pinguecula experience only mild symptoms. In some cases, a person may experience the following symptoms in one or both eyes:
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If a person notices any changes in their eyes, they should arrange an appointment with a doctor. The doctor may then refer the person to a specialist eye doctor, such as an ophthalmologist or optometrist.
The eye doctor may examine the eye under a special light using a magnifying lens. This procedure is often enough to allow them to identify and diagnose a pinguecula.
If the pinguecula is causing symptoms, they will recommend some appropriate treatments to help the person manage any discomfort.
Pingueculae do not usually require treatment. However, if the growth is causing bothersome symptoms, a person can try over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription medications.
Surgery is usually reserved for pingueculae that cause severe eye irritation and those that cause cosmetic concerns.
The sections below will outline these treatment options in more detail.
OTC eye drops may be helpful for symptoms such as dryness, burning, and itching. Some drops are labeled as “artificial tears” and work like natural tears to help lubricate the eyes.
Many artificial tears contain preservatives. These can cause eye irritation in some people. If a person does develop eye irritation, they should consider using preservative-free drops that come in single-use vials.
Eye ointments are also available. These tend to remain in the eye for longer than artificial tears. Because of this, they may be suitable for more severe cases of dryness and discomfort.
People should tell their eye doctor about any eye drops they use.
If OTC eye drops and ointments do not alleviate the symptoms of a pinguecula, a doctor may recommend trying prescription eye drops.
Eye drops that contain a steroid can help with swelling and inflammation. They may also help alleviate the unpleasant sensation of sand or grit being in the eye.
Surgery may be an option for people who do not find symptom relief from OTC or prescription treatments. Other people may choose to have a pinguecula removed for cosmetic reasons.
During the procedure, a surgeon will remove the pinguecula. They will then use a special glue to transfer a piece of healthy conjunctiva to the area from which they removed the pinguecula.
One 2019 study found that surgery combined with a graft of healthy conjunctiva tissue can remove pingueculae and alleviate associated dry eye symptoms.
A pinguecula alone rarely causes any serious complications. It typically does not affect vision, and it is not linked to other eye diseases or cancer.
Some people are uncomfortable with the appearance of a pinguecula, however. They may wish to pursue surgical removal for this reason.
If a pinguecula grows, it may turn into another type of benign growth called a pterygium.
Like a pinguecula, a pterygium also grows on the conjunctiva of the eye. Unlike a pinguecula, however, a pterygium has its own blood vessels. For this reason, a pterygium is often larger, and it may be red, pink, or yellow.
A pterygium may cause more symptoms than a pinguecula. A pterygium is also more likely to interfere with a person’s vision.
Many people can manage the symptoms of a pterygium with guidance from an eye doctor. In some cases, however, a person may need surgery to remove the pterygium. It is possible for a pterygium to grow back following surgery.
Because sunlight appears to be a risk factor for developing pingueculae, people should take care to protect their eyes from the sun. This also helps prevent other eye conditions, such as cataracts and cancer.
Below are some things a person can try to protect their eyes from sunlight and other irritants:
- Wearing wraparound sunglasses: Wraparound sunglasses block 99–100% of UV rays. People should wear them whenever they go outside or get into a vehicle, even if it is cloudy, raining, or snowing outside.
- Wearing a wide-brimmed hat: A wide-brimmed hat helps keep the sun’s rays off the face and eyes.
- Wearing protective eye gear: People should wear safety goggles or other appropriate eye protection when working in dusty or dirty environments.
- Managing dry eyes: If a person has dry eyes, they should speak with an eye doctor about medications they can use to keep the eyes lubricated.
These measures may also help prevent the recurrence of a pinguecula following removal surgery.
The outlook for people who have a pinguecula is good. In some cases, the growth may remain small and may never cause symptoms. If it does grow or become bothersome, people can often manage it using eye drops.
A pinguecula is not typically associated with other health problems. However, some people may choose to have a pinguecula removed for cosmetic reasons or due to persistent symptoms.
A pinguecula is not dangerous and often does not require treatment.
However, there are some noninvasive treatment options available that can help manage the growth of a pinguecula and alleviate any symptoms. Surgery is also an option for some people.
A person should see an eye doctor if they think they may have a pinguecula. Although these growths are not dangerous, it is important to discuss any eye changes with a healthcare professional. This will be an important step in ruling out other health conditions.