A pinguecula is a benign, or noncancerous, growth that develops on your eye. These growths are called pingueculae when there are more than one of them. It grows on the conjunctiva, which is the thin layer of tissue that covers the white part of your eye. Pingueculae can occur at any age, but they’re mainly found in middle-aged and elderly people. These growths rarely need to be removed, and no treatment is necessary in most cases.
A pinguecula is yellowish in color and typically has a triangular shape. It’s a small raised patch that grows close to your cornea. Your cornea is the transparent layer that lies over your pupil and iris. Your iris is the colored part of your eye. Pingueculae are more common on the side of your cornea closer to your nose, but they can also grow next to your cornea on the other side. Some pingueculae can grow larger, but this occurs at a very slow rate and is rare.
A pinguecula forms when the tissue in your conjunctiva changes and creates a small bump. Some of these bumps contain protein, fat, and calcium, while others contain protein and either fat or calcium. The reason for this change isn’t fully understood, but it’s been linked to frequent exposure to sunlight, dust, or wind. Pingueculae also tend to become more common as people get older.
A pinguecula can make your eye feel irritated or dry. It can also make you feel like you have something in your eye. Or you might have a gritty feeling as though you had sand or other rough particles in your eye. The affected eye might also itch or become red and inflamed. These symptoms caused by pingueculae can be mild or severe. Your optometrist, or eye doctor, should be able to diagnose this condition based on the pinguecula’s appearance and location.
Pingueculae and pterygia are types of growths that can form on your eye. The singular term for pterygia is pterygium. They share a few similarities, but there are also notable differences between these two conditions.
Pingueculae and pterygia are both benign and grow near the cornea. They’re both linked to exposure to the sun, wind, and other harsh elements.
However, pterygia don’t look like pingueculae. Pterygia have a flesh-colored appearance and are round, oval, or elongated. Pterygia are more likely to grow over the cornea than pingueculae. A pinguecula that grows onto the cornea is known as a pterygium.
You usually don’t need any type of treatment for a pinguecula unless it causes discomfort. If your eye does hurt, your doctor can give you eye ointment or eye drops to relieve redness and irritation.
You can talk to your doctor about having the pinguecula surgically removed if its appearance bothers you. In some cases, a pinguecula might need to be removed. Surgery is considered when a pinguecula:
- grows over your cornea, since this can affect your vision
- causes extreme discomfort when you try to wear contact lenses
- is constantly and severely inflamed, even after you apply eye drops or ointments
A pinguecula usually doesn’t cause any problems. Surgery typically doesn’t lead to complications, although pingueculae can grow back afterward. Your doctor might give you medication or use surface radiation to help prevent this.
If you spend a lot of time outdoors due to work or hobbies, you’re more likely to develop pingueculae. However, you can help prevent these growths by wearing sunglasses when you’re outside. Ideally, you should wear sunglasses that have a coating that blocks the sun’s ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays. Sunglasses also help protect your eyes from wind and other outdoor elements, such as sand. Keeping your eyes moisturized with artificial tears might also help prevent pingueculae. You should also wear protective eyewear when working in a dry and dusty environment.