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What Is a Pinguecula?

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A pinguecula is a yellowish, noncancerous mass that grows on the side of the eye nearest to the nose. Too much UV exposure can increase the likelihood of developing a pinguecula. 

In fact, those who live closest to the equator—in areas where the sun is most intense—are more likely to develop pingueculae (the plural of pinguecula) according to a 2019 review. Let's take a closer look at pingueculae, the symptoms, treatments, causes, and more.

What Is a Pinguecula?

As we previously mentioned, a pinguecula is a yellowish, noncancerous growth that develops on the conjunctiva — usually adjacent to the border where the colored part of the eye meets the white part of the eye. As a reminder, the conjunctiva is the clear membrane that covers the whites of the eyes. 

Pingueculae tend to appear on the side of the eye closest to the nose. However, in some cases they can appear on the other side of the eye as well. Made up of fat, protein, calcium, and usually permanent, pingueculae may be small and barely noticeable or can be large enough to cause discomfort. Fortunately, a pinguecula alone is usually harmless. However, it can lead to irritation and redness in the eye.

What Are Pinguculae Symptoms?

The primary symptom of a pinguecula is a yellow bump or spot on the whites of one or both eyes. This spot can be triangular or round. The majority of patients who develop pingueculae only experience mild iterations of the following symptoms:

  • Burning
  • Dryness
  • Itching
  • Swelling and redness
  • Feeling of sand or grit in the eye
  • Blurred vision

Based on a 2017 review, a pinguecula doesn't grow onto the cornea of the eye, which reduces the likelihood of it impeding one's vision. 

What Causes Pingueculae?

A pinguecula forms from changes in the conjunctiva, which creates a tiny bump. The reason why the conjunctiva changes aren't well understood. However, this change has been directly linked to frequent exposure to wind, dust, and sunlight. Pingueculae are also presumed to be more common as one ages. 

How Is A Pinguecula Treated?

Most patients do not need treatment unless it starts to cause discomfort. If there is discomfort, OTC drops can be very helpful to alleviate the burning, dryness, and itch. As an eye care professional you can also prescribe eye drops or eye ointment to relieve the irritation. 

If the presence of the pinguecula bothers your patient, you can discuss surgical options with him/her. Surgery may also be considered when the pinguecula:

  • Is severely and constantly inflamed— even after applying ointments or eye drops
  • Cause discomfort while wearing contact lenses
  • Grows over the cornea and begins to impact vision.

Understanding a Pterygium (Surfer's Eye)

If your patient has pingueculae growing in his/her eye, it could turn into another kind of benign growth called a pterygium. Similar to a pinguecula, the pterygium grows over the conjunctiva, but it contains its own blood vessels. Because of this, the pterygium often grows larger than a pinguecula and can be yellow, pink, or even red. 

A pterygium can cause additional symptoms and is more likely to hinder your patient’s vision. In many instances you can work with your patient to manage symptoms. Similar to a pinguecula, surgical removal of pterygium may be required.

How to Help Prevent Pingueculae 

One of the most widely recognized risk factors for pingueculae is sunlight: another reason to stress the importance of wearing sunglasses with your patients. In addition to helping to prevent pingueculae, protecting eyes from the sun can also help prevent cancer as well as cataracts. Here are some of the important steps your patients can take to protect their eyes from UV and other irritants:

  1. Wear protective eye gear. If your patient works in a dirty or dusty area, it's always important to wear safety goggles and other appropriate eye protection. 
  2. Wear polarized wraparound sunglasses. Polarized sunglasses are excellent for UV protection, and wearing wraparound sunglasses will provide end-to-end protection. Don’t forget to remind your patients to wear their sunglasses anytime they go outside or get into their vehicle — even if it's snowing, cloudy, or raining.
  3. Wear wide-brimmed hats. A wide-brimmed hat can help keep the sun off of the eyes and face.
  4. Appropriately treat dry eyes. If your patients suffer from dry eyes, it is important to provide the proper medications so that they can treat their condition and keep their eyes lubricated.

Questions? Contact Us Today!

For more than 100 years, Keeler has been a leader in the optometric/ophthalmic industry, offering cutting-edge diagnostic equipment and solutions. We offer a vast range of different ophthalmic and optometry supplies and equipment, including: 

We regularly partner with different high-tech ophthalmic solution providers, general medical instrument manufacturers, veterinary diagnostic specialists, and more to provide specialized OEM manufacturing.

About the Author Eugene VanArsdale

Eugene is the Director of Marketing Communications at Keeler Instruments. He has been with Keeler since 1982 and is co-holder of two patents for the company. Eugene has a true passion for the eye care industry and has dedicated himself to understanding the ins and outs of the optometric and ophthalmic equipment market.