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Pinguecula: Causes, symptoms and treatment

illustration of an eye with pinguecula

What is a pinguecula? 

A pinguecula is a type of growth that can form on the conjunctiva of the eye. They are yellowish or very light brown and have a slightly raised, triangle shape. Pingueculae are not a type of cancer, but they can form when the eyes get too much exposure to UV rays. They usually appear close to the cornea, on the white part of the eye (sclera) between the iris and the nose.

Pinguecula causes

Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the most common cause of pingueculae. Other common risk factors include frequent or long-term exposure to dust and wind. Dry eye disease may also be a contributing factor and can promote the growth of pingueculae.

Pingueculae are more common in middle-aged or older people who spend a lot of time in the sun. However, they can occur at any age for those who spend a lot of time outdoors without sun protection.

Signs and symptoms of pinguecula

In most people, pingueculae don’t cause many symptoms. But they can cause symptoms if they disrupt the eye’s tear film (the natural coating of moisture over the eye).

A pinguecula looks like a yellow or light brown spot on the white part of the eye.

If the pinguecula grows large enough, the tear film may not be able to spread around it, across the surface of the eye. This can cause dry eye symptoms, such as a burning sensation, stinging and itching. Dry eyes can also cause blurred vision and a foreign body sensation. Red, bloodshot eyes are another symptom that may appear with pingueculae. In some cases, pingueculae can become swollen and inflamed — this is called pingueculitis.

Sometimes people confuse pingueculae with eye growths called pterygia, but they are different. 

LEARN MORE: Pterygium: What is surfer’s eye?

Treatment of pinguecula

Pinguecula treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are. It’s very important for anyone with pingueculae to protect their eyes from the sun. It’s the sun’s harmful UV rays that cause pingueculae in the first place. Plus, continued exposure encourages them to keep growing.

Sun protection 

It is important to wear sunglasses and hats anytime you are outside. These are the best ways to protect your eyes from UV rays and reduce the risk of pingueculae. This is even true on overcast and cloudy days because the sun’s UV rays penetrate cloud cover.

Photochromic lenses are a great option. They darken automatically in sunlight and provide 100% UV protection. Photochromic lenses also help filter high-energy blue-violet light. For the best protection, choose sunglasses with a wraparound frame. This frame design blocks more sunlight than regular frames.

Dryness and irritation relief

If dry eye symptoms occur with a mild pinguecula, lubricating eye drops may help. If dry eye is the cause of the pinguecula, eye drops formulated to treat dry eyes also may be prescribed.

Your eye doctor might also prescribe scleral contact lenses. These can cover the growth to ease some of the effects of dryness and limit further UV exposure to some degree.

Pingueculae also can lead to localized inflammation and swelling. This can be treated with steroid eye drops or anti-inflammatory medication. 

Pinguecula surgery

Surgical removal of a pinguecula is an option as well. An eye doctor might recommend surgery if a pinguecula is causing a lot of discomfort. It may also be an option if the pinguecula interferes with daily activities.

When to see your eye doctor

A pinguecula is not cancerous. However, you should tell your eye doctor about any changes in size, shape or color of any bump on your eye as soon as possible.

One-year outcome of argon laser photocoagulation of pinguecula. Cornea. July 2013.

Six things to know about pinguecula and pterygium. American Academy of Ophthalmology. July 2016.

Therapeutic uses of scleral contact lenses for ocular surface disease: patient selection and special considerations. Clinical Optometry. February 2018.

What is a pinguecula and a pterygium (surfer’s eye)? American Academy of Ophthalmology. October 2020.

Pinguecula (yellow bump on eye). Kellogg Eye Center. Accessed April 2021.

Pinguecula. American Optometric Association. Accessed April 2021.

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