What to Know About Pinguecula

Medically Reviewed by Jabeen Begum, MD on August 25, 2022
5 min read

If you notice a small, yellow bump on your eyeball, it could be a pinguecula. While not dangerous, it can cause some discomfort. Learn more about the symptoms and causes of pingueculas, as well as how they’re diagnosed and treated.

A pinguecula is a small growth on the conjunctiva of your eye. This is the clear covering over the white part of your eye. Most people who have a pinguecula have it on the inside of their eye, close to the nose. It’s possible for it to grow on the other side, though, too. 

Pingueculas can be made up of a number of things, like fat, calcium, or protein. Pingueculas can either be round or triangular in shape. They initially range in size from small to barely noticeable. Over time, though, pingueculas may get bigger. 

Some people get nervous and worry that pingueculas are dangerous since they are a growth on the eye, but they are harmless and non-cancerous. While some people experience irritation, others barely notice that the pingueculas are there.

Pingueculas are sometimes confused with pterygiums, which is also known as surfer’s eye. This is a different growth altogether. Even though it also grows on the conjunctiva, it’s wedge-shaped and extends to your cornea. Pterygiums can grow on either side of the eye, just like pingueculas, and they can cause irritation, distort your vision, and even change the shape of your cornea.

Health experts don’t yet know exactly what causes a pinguecula. However, most agree that there is a connection with exposure to outside irritants over periods of months or years. For example, you may be at risk for pinguecula if you:

  • Work outside
  • Spend a lot of time outdoors
  • Are exposed to UV light, either outside or in a tanning bed
  • Spend a lot of time exposed to wind and/or dust

Some people are at higher risk of developing pinguecula than others. Some studies suggest that men are more likely to develop them than women. The chances of getting a pinguecula go up as you age, so they’re more prevalent in middle-aged or older people.

Pingueculas are also more common in people who live in warm, tropical climates near the equator since they spend more time outdoors. On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may have an increased risk if you spend a lot of time out in the snow, as UV rays reflect off of the snow and increase your eyes’ exposure to light.

If you have pinguecula, you will see a small, yellow bump on your eye. Sometimes, there are no other symptoms, but you may experience some mild symptoms like:

  • Dryness
  • Irritation
  • Feeling like something is in your eye

If the pinguecula becomes inflamed, it can develop into pingueculitis. In this case, the pinguecula interferes with the tear film in your eye, which causes symptoms of dry eye. In addition to the symptoms above, you might feel an itching or burning sensation in your eye.

One thing to note is that it’s possible to have pinguecula in both of your eyes at the same time. You may also notice that you have more than one yellow bump in the same eye. This can slightly change the appearance of your eye.

Talk to your doctor if you think that you have pinguecula. To receive a diagnosis, you will probably have to visit an optometrist or ophthalmologist, doctors that specialize in eye health.

Diagnosing pinguecula. To begin, your doctor will ask you about your health history and to describe the symptoms that you’re experiencing. Next, they will perform a comprehensive eye exam. To get a good look at your eye, your doctor will probably use a special microscope called a slit lamp. This tool shines a narrow slit of light into your eye so that your doctor can inspect the front and the side of your eye. Usually, this is enough to make a diagnosis since the pinguecula is easily visible.

Just to rule out any other conditions, though, your doctor may order a test called a conjunctival biopsy. This will examine the tissue in your eye to make sure nothing serious is going on and may help to pinpoint the cause of your pinguecula.

Pinguecula treatment. If your pinguecula isn’t causing you pain or discomfort, no treatment is necessary. If you do have uncomfortable symptoms, your doctor can prescribe lubricating eyedrops. This will keep your eye moist and can help prevent any further inflammation. If inflammation is present, your doctor can give you steroid eye drops.

In rare cases, a pinguecula can be surgically removed if it doesn’t clear up and continues to cause painful symptoms. You can also choose to have it removed if you are bothered by the way it looks. People who wear contact lenses may also opt for surgery since the pinguecula can affect the way that they wear their contacts.

If you’re thinking about surgery, keep in mind that the pinguecula can grow back, so removal may be pointless. There currently isn’t a perfect cure for pinguecula.

There are steps that you can take to prevent pinguecula if you are at risk for developing it.

  • Protect your eyes by wearing wraparound sunglasses if you’re going to be outdoors for long periods of time. This style of glasses offers better protection from the sun’s rays than others. Good sunglasses should block out at least 99% of harmful UV rays. Along with a wide-brimmed hat, you should wear them even on cloudy days.
  • If you live or work in dry, dusty areas, keep your eyes moist with eye drops or artificial tears. You should also wear protective glasses or goggles when working to block out dust and debris.
  • Avoid artificial UV light, such as exposure in a tanning bed. 

If you take preventative steps, it’s easy to avoid pinguecula since it takes long-term exposure to outdoor elements for them to develop. Spending time outside for normal activities like hiking, walking, or going to the beach is unlikely to increase your chances of getting a pinguecula.