What Is A Pinguecula?
Pingueculae are non-cancerous bumps on the eyeball and typically occur on top of the middle part of the sclera — the part that's between your eyelids and therefore is exposed to the sun. Usually pingueculae affect the surface of the sclera that's closer to the nose, but they can occur on the outer sclera (closer to the ear) as well.
A pinguecula is a yellow bump on the eye caused by thickening of the conjunctiva that covers the white of the eye. [Enlarge]
Ultraviolet radiation from the sun is the primary cause of the development of pingueculae, but frequent exposure to dust and wind also appear to be be risk factors. Dry eye disease also may 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. But they also can occur in younger people and even children — especially those who are often outdoors without sunglasses or hats to protect their eyes from the sun's UV rays.
To decrease the risk of pinguecula, it's important to wear sunglasses outdoors even on overcast and cloudy days, because the sun's UV rays penetrate cloud cover. For the best protection, choose sunglasses with a wraparound frame design, which block more sunlight than regular frames.
Signs And Symptoms
In most people, pingueculae don't cause many symptoms. But when they do, those symptoms usually stem from a disruption of the tear film. Because a pinguecula is a raised bump on the eyeball, the natural tear film may not spread evenly across the surface of the eye around it, causing dryness. This can cause dry eye symptoms, such as a burning sensation, stinging, itching, blurred vision and foreign body sensation.
Another symptom of pingueculae is the appearance of extra blood vessels in the conjunctiva that covers the sclera, causing red eyes.
In some cases, pingueculae can become swollen and inflamed. This is called pingueculitis. Irritation and eye redness from pingueculitis usually result from excessive exposure to sunlight, wind, dust or extremely dry conditions.
Sometimes people confuse pingueculae with eye growths called pterygia, but they are different. Learn more about what a pterygium is.
To protect your eyes, always wear good quality sunglasses when you are outdoors — even on hazy or overcast days.
Sunglasses are as important in winter as they are in summer. Even though the sun is lower in the sky in winter, fresh snow can reflect 80 percent of UV rays, significantly increasing your UV exposure. So if you ski or snowboard, choosing the right ski goggles is essential.
Pinguecula treatment depends on how severe the symptoms are. It's especially important for anyone with pingueculae to protect their eyes from the sun, since it's the sun's harmful UV rays that causes pingueculae to develop in the first place and encourages them to keep growing.
To help protect your eyes from pingueculae, shield your eyes from the sun whenever you are outdoors in daylight (even on overcast days because the sun's UV rays penetrate clouds). Consider purchasing photochromic lenses, which provide 100 percent UV protection, shield your eyes from harmful high-energy blue light, and darken automatically in sunlight. Ask your eye care professional for details.
If a pinguecula is mild but accompanied by dry eye irritation or foreign body sensation, lubricating eye drops may be prescribed to relieve symptoms. Scleral contact lenses sometimes are prescribed to cover the growth, protecting it from some of the effects of dryness or potentially from further UV exposure.
Pingueculae also can lead to localized inflammation and swelling that is sometimes treated with steroid eye drops or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs). If dry eye is the cause of the pinguecula, eye drops formulated to treat dry eyes also may be prescribed.
Surgical removal of a pinguecula may be considered if it becomes especially uncomfortable, if it interferes with contact lens wear or blinking or if it is cosmetically bothersome.
Finally, although a pinguecula is non-cancerous, you should report any changes in size, shape or color of any bump on your eyeball to your eye doctor.
About the Author: Amy Hellem is a writer, editor and researcher who specializes in eye care and other medical fields. She is a past editor-in-chief of the professional ophthalmic journals Review of Optometry and Review of Cornea & Contact Lenses and currently is president of Hellem Consulting, LLC.
Page updated August 2017