A pinguecula is a small bump on the white of the eye. These growths usually occur on either side of the colored part of the eye, at roughly the 3 and 9 o’clock positions. A pinguecula is a common finding and does not usually pose any risk or concern. However, there are a few cases where a pinguecula can be concerning including if it gets inflamed, grows onto the cornea, or causes irritation.
A pinguecula will form on the clear membrane of the eye which is called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva covers the white of the eye, which is the sclera.
In a typical eye, the conjunctiva and sclera are smooth and flat. This allows the eyelid to slide over the eyeball easily and without complications.
A pinguecula can be causes by anything which causes damage to the conjunctiva. Potential causes of this damage include contact lens wear, UV or sun exposure, or a repeated dryness on the conjunctiva from wind or air exposure.
If the contact lens rubs on the conjunctiva and causes repeated irritation on to the eye, it may form a pinguecula as a result of the damage.
Since the conjunctiva is the outer layer of the eye, it is particularly susceptible to damage from the sun when outside. The UV light can damage the conjunctiva and lead to the development of a pinguecula.
The conjunctiva is supposed to be moist and remain a soft, mucus membrane. However, if lots of wind or air dry the conjunctiva, the conjunctiva can respond by forming a pinguecula.
The most common symptoms of a pinguecula are dry eyes, irritation, and a feeling of something being in the eye.
To alleviate some of these symptoms, the best treatment is often palliative treatment using artificial tears or other lubrication methods.
Applying a thick or gel-like lubricant can be particularly effective in reducing the symptoms of the pinguecula during times of rest.
If lubricants are not sufficiently reducing the symptoms of the pinguecula, a steroid eye drop may be prescribed as well.
The most common complication of a pinguecula is the chronic irritation which is usually associated with the pinguecula.
More severe complications include inflammation of the pinguecula and growth of the pinguecula onto the cornea.
If the pinguecula becomes inflamed, the eye will be red and irritated in that section of the conjunctiva. Additionally, vision may become blurry or slightly worse during this inflammation. This condition is called pingueculitis and will usually require prescription steroid eye drops to resolve.
If a pinguecula grows onto the front, clear surface of the eye it can become a pterygium. The cornea is an important structure and responsible for bending light into the eye to focus.
If the pinguecula grows onto the cornea, it is called a pterygium and can cause many more severe symptoms such as distorted vision, eye pain, and chronic dryness.
A pterygium will often require a surgical procedure to be removed and reduce the symptoms.