Have you ever looked in the mirror and noticed a whitish or yellow elevation on either side of the colored part of your eye? This discoloration is called a pinguecula. Pinguecula are fairly common, non-cancerous, yellowish-tinted nodular growths that grow on the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva is the clear tissue covering the white of the eye. They grow adjacent to the cornea usually at 3:00 and 9:00 o’clock. They are more commonly seen on the nasal side of the cornea.
A pinguecula is an alteration of normal tissue resulting in deposits of protein and fat. Pinguecula are believed to be primarily caused by ultraviolet light and are most common among people who spend a lot of time outdoors. The growth does not affect vision. When a pinguecula becomes red and swollen it is referred to as pingueculitis. In some cases, chronic irritation causes the pinguecula to change and begin to develop into a pterygium that gradually grows across the cornea. Unlike pinguecula, pterygia need to be removed in some cases to avoid vision loss as they grow over the cornea and approach the line of sight or visual axis.
Pinguecula are formed because of damage to the conjunctiva from a combination of various irritants. They include chronic exposure to ultraviolet light (sunlight), wind, dryness, and normal aging. They begin as collagen fibers in the conjunctiva degenerate in a process called elastitic degeneration. Next, the collagen fibers are replaced by thicker, yellowish fibers and sometimes calcium crystals, which cause the elevated, yellowish appearance of a pinguecula. Some pinguecula are barely noticeable while others are significantly elevated with a distinctly different color compared to surrounding conjunctiva.
In most cases, pinguecula growth slows or stops after its initial presentation. For this reason conservative management is typically the case involving appropriate protection with sunglasses and lubricating drops to relieve dryness and irritation. More irritated pinguecula that appear red and congested require nonsteroidal eye drops. In the event that pingueculitis is more significant and unresponsive to lubricants and nonsteroidal drops, steroid drops may be used to relieve inflammation followed by daily lubrication for maintenance. Keeping the pinguecula uninflammed with daily lubrication can avoid discomfort, an undesirable cosmetic appearance, and the need for more aggressive treatment.
If you have questions about pinguecula, or any other change in the appearance of your eyes, please contact our offices in Stillwater at 405-372-1715. We also invite you to visit our website at www.cockrelleyecare.com and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!