Pinguecula and Pterygium
Has your doctor told you that you might have a pinguecula or a pterygium? These two eye growths are often confused, so read on to learn the differences.
A pinguecula (pin-GWEK-yoo-lah) is a yellowish, slightly raised thickening of the conjunctiva on the white part of the eye (sclera), close to the edge of the cornea. Pingueculae typically occur on the part of the sclera that is between your eyelids and therefore exposed to the sun.
While pingueculae are more common in middle-aged or older people who spend a lot of time in the sun, they can also be found in younger people and even children especially those who are often outdoors without protection such as sunglasses or hats.
Pinguecula Signs and Symptoms
In most people, pingueculae cause few symptoms. But a pinguecula that is irritated might create a feeling that something is in the eye (called a "foreign body sensation").
In some cases, pingueculae become swollen and inflamed, a condition called pingueculitis. Irritation and eye redness from pingueculitis usually result from exposure to sun, wind, dust or extremely dry conditions.
Wearing sunglasses and hats when outdoors can reduce your chances of developing pingueculae.
Treatment of Pinguecula
Pinguecula treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are. Everyone with pingueculae can benefit from sun protection for their eyes from the sun's harmful ultraviolet radiation.
Lubricating eye drops may be prescribed for mild pingueculitis, to relieve dry eye irritation and foreign body sensation. Steroid eye drops or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may be needed to relieve significant inflammation and swelling.
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Surgical removal of the pinguecula may be considered in severe cases when it interferes with vision, contact lens wear or blinking.
Frequently, pingueculae can lead to the formation of pterygia.
A pterygium (teh-RIJ-ee-um) is an elevated, wedged-shaped growth of the scleral conjunctiva that invades the cornea. Pterygia are benign (non-cancerous) growths, but contain blood vessels and form scar tissue on the eye.
Because a pterygium resembles tissue or film growing over the eye, a person who has one may become concerned about personal appearance.
As with pingueculae, prolonged exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun may play a role in the formation of pterygia.
Pterygium Signs and Symptoms
Many people with pterygia do not experience symptoms or require treatment. Some pterygia may become red and swollen on occasion, and some may become large or thick. This may cause concern about appearance or create a feeling of having a foreign body in the eye.
Large and advanced pterygia can actually cause a distortion of the surface of the cornea and cause astigmatism.
How a Pterygium Is Treated
Treatment depends on the pterygium's size and the symptoms it causes. If a pterygium is small but becomes inflamed, your eye doctor may prescribe lubricants or possibly a mild steroid eye drop to reduce swelling and redness. In some cases, surgical removal of the pterygium is necessary.
If a pterygium becomes large or inflamed, surgical removal may be necessary.
The pterygium may be removed in a procedure room at the doctor's office or in an operating room setting. A number of surgical techniques are currently used to remove pterygia, and it is up to your eye doctor to determine the best procedure for you.
For milder pterygia, a topical anesthetic can be used before surgery to deaden feeling in your eye's surface. Your eyelids will be kept open with an eyelid speculum while the pterygium is surgically removed. After the procedure, which usually lasts no longer than half an hour, you likely will need to wear an eye patch for protection for a day or two. You should be able to return to work or normal activities the next day.
Unfortunately, pterygia often return after surgical removal. In fact, some studies show recurrence rates up to 40 percent. Risk of recurrence also appears to vary among ethnic groups, with Hispanics having a greater risk of pterygium recurrence than whites.
Exposure to ultraviolet light from the sun is a suspected cause of pingueculae and pterygia. Wrap sunglasses, such as these from Oakley, will protect your eyes from all angles.
To prevent regrowth after the pterygium is surgically removed, your eye surgeon may suture or glue a piece of surface eye tissue onto the affected area. This method, called autologous conjunctival autografting, has been shown to safely and effectively reduce the risk of pterygium recurrence.
A drug that slows metabolic processes (antimetabolite) contributing to tissue growth, such as mitomycin, may be applied topically.
After removal of the pterygium, steroid eye drops may be used for several weeks to decrease swelling and prevent regrowth.
Note that pterygium removal also can induce astigmatism, especially in people who already have astigmatism.
Comparison of pterygium recurrence rates in Hispanic and white patients after primary excision and conjunctival autograft. Cornea. February 2010.
[Page updated January 2013]
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