Pinguecula

Written by Amanda Delgado | Published on July 12, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What is a Pinguecula?

A pinguecula (plural: pingueculae) is a benign (noncancerous) growth that develops on your eye. It grows on the conjunctiva, which is the thin layer of tissue that’s over 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.

What Does a Pinguecula Look Like?

A pinguecula is yellowish in color and has a triangular shape. It’s a small raised patch that grows close to your cornea, which is the transparent layer that lies over your pupil and iris (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 bigger, but this occurs at a very slow rate and is rare.

What Causes Pingueculae?

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 can also become more common as you get older. Most people who are over 80 have a pinguecula (Smolin et al., 2005).

Symptoms Caused by a Pinguecula

A pinguecula can make your eye feel irritated or dry. It can also cause the sensation that you have something in your eye. Or you might experience 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 eye doctor should be able to diagnose this condition based on the pinguecula’s appearance and location.

Comparing Pingueculae and Pterygia

Pingueculae and pterygia (singular: pterygium) are types of growths that can form on your eye. 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 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 are pingueculae. If a pinguecula does grow onto the cornea, it is then called a pterygium (Smolin et al., 2005).

How Is a Pinguecula Treated?

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

What Is the Long-Term Outlook?

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.

Can You Prevent Pingueculae from Developing?

If you spend a lot of time outdoors due to work or hobbies, you are 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 UVA and 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 pingeuculae. You should also wear protective eyewear when working in a dry and dusty environment.

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Show Sources

  • Agarwal, A. & Jacob, S. (Eds.). (2010). Color atlas of ophthalmology: The quick-reference manual for diagnosis and treatment. (2nd ed.). (pp. 117-118). New York, NY: Thieme Medical Publishers, Inc.
  • Pinguecula. (2010, November 8). National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health. Retrieved July 10, 2012, from http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/001025.htm
  • Pterygium and Pinguecula: A Closer Look. (2011, September). American Academy of Ophthalmology.Retrieved July 10, 2012, from https://secure.aao.org/pdf/051159_Sample.pdf
  • Smolin, G., Thoft, R.A., Foster, C.S., Azar, D.T., & Dohlman, C.H. (Eds.). (2005). Smolin and Thoft’s the cornea: Scientific foundations and clinical practice. (p. 875). Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins.

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