A growth on the white part of your eye may be a deposit of fat, calcium, or protein. In some cases, people may develop tumors on this part of the eye.

Bumps on the eyeball are typically growths of the conjunctiva, a clear ocular membrane that covers the white part of the eye. Depending on the color of the bump, its shape, and where it is on the eye, there are a number of conditions that may cause bumps on the eyeball.

1. Pinguecula

Pingueculae are small yellow-white bumps on the eyeball. They’re deposits of fat, calcium, or protein. These bumps are fairly common in middle-aged and older adults. According to the some studies, men are more likely to get these bumps than women.

Research indicates that these are the most common causes of pinguecula:

  • aging
  • UV light exposure
  • dry eye
  • frequent irritation from wind and dust

The most noticeable symptom of a pinguecula is the white or yellow bumps on the white of the eye, closest to the nose. Although they can also appear on the part of the eye closer to the ear.

Other symptoms of a pinguecula include:

Pingueculae are noncancerous, but should be monitored. You should talk with your eye doctor about your bumps and what to watch for. If they get any bigger, change color, or begin interfering with your ability to wear contact lenses, your eye doctor should be alerted right away. A pinguecula can grow into a pterygium.

Treatment methods include wearing sunglasses while outside and using artificial tear eye drops. Sometimes medicated eye drops may be needed.

2. Pterygium

If the bump is white or pink and elongated or shaped like a wedge, it may be a flesh-like growth called a pterygium. This is also sometimes known as “surfer’s eye” or “farmers eye” because being exposed to harmful UV rays for long hours can increase your risk of getting a pterygium.

The exact cause of surfer’s eye is unclear, but research shows that those who are exposed to UV light and wind and dust irritants for long periods of time are more likely to develop these growths. People who live in a dry climate are also more likely to get these bumps.

Many pterygia start as pingueculae. They’re not harmful to the eye, but can grow large enough to begin to cover the cornea — the clear front part of the eye — and can impair vision. These bumps can also affect your ability to wear contact lenses. Medicated eye drops and surgery are possible treatment methods.

Beyond the physical growth, pterygium typically don’t cause symptoms. The condition’s symptoms are usually limited to:

  • white or pink wedge- or wing-shaped growths on the eye, typically on the side closest to the nose
  • astigmatism or blurred vision if the growth enters the central cornea
  • dry eye

If the bumps don’t bother you, you can use artificial tears to lubricate the eye and prevent them from getting worse. Have them checked regularly by an eye doctor because it may be necessary to have them surgically removed before they affect your vision.

3. Limbal dermoid

Limbal dermoids are noncancerous tumors that occur in children’s eyes. They’re typically white and overlap the white and colored part of the eye.

They generally don’t cause harm, but can affect a child’s vision. The tumors can be surgically removed, which most frequently occurs if the tumor causes astigmatism (blurred vision) or if the tumor grows in size.

4. Conjunctival tumor

Larger growths on the conjunctiva — the clear membrane that covers the eye — may also be a tumor, especially if the bump has grown significantly over time. They can appear fixed, have a minimal bump, or look thick and fleshy. They can be located in the white part of the eye or over the cornea.

One recent research study examined 5,002 cases of conjunctival tumors and noted bumps with a wider diameter. Blood vessels that feed the bumps were most likely to be cancerous tumors. Of the cases examined, 52 percent weren’t cancerous, 18 percent were precancerous, and 30 percent were cancerous.

A precancerous growth in this area is a called a conjunctival intraepithelial neoplasia (CIN). It’s most common in older people and people with poor immune systems who have had extensive exposure to the sun and UV rays. Research also shows the human papilloma virus (HPV) is a risk factor for developing CIN.

Treatment for conjunctival tumors includes

  • surgery to remove precancerous or cancerous cells
  • cryotherapy
  • topical chemotherapy

Because the bump on your eyeball is a physical symptom, your eye doctor should be able to diagnose what’s causing it simply by a visual assessment. If your doctor isn’t sure what the bump is by the look of it, they make take a biopsy of your eye and examine the sample under a microscope.

Treatment for the bump on your eyeball depends entirely on the cause of the bump. If it’s a common cause such as a pinguecula, treatment typically includes using lubricating eye drops and wearing UV-protective sunglasses while outside, even on cloudy days.

If your eye is inflamed and swollen, your eye doctor may prescribe specialty eye drops with steroids in them to reduce the swelling. They may also recommend you get special scleral contact lenses for dry eyes, or photochromic lenses for your eyeglasses so they darken automatically into sunglasses when you walk outside.

Surgical removal of the bump is also an option, depending on the cause. In the case of CIN or conjunctival tumors, surgery and chemotherapy may be necessary. In other cases, such as with limbal dermoids, doctors may try to avoid surgery unless absolutely necessary.