Cornea

eye-macro-2000wWhat Is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium

Pterygium (pronounced tur-IJ-ee-um) and pinguecula (pronounced pin- GWEK-yoo-la) are growths on the cornea (the clear front window of the eye) and the conjunctiva — the thin, filmy membrane that covers the white part of your eye (sclera). Both growths are noncancerous and are fairly common.

A pinguecula is a yellowish patch or bump on the conjunctiva, near the cornea. It most often appears on the side of the eye closest to the nose. It is a change in the normal tissue that results in a deposit of protein, fat and/or calcium. It is similar to a callus on the skin.

A pterygium is a triangular-shaped growth of fleshy tissue on the white of the eye that eventually extends over the cornea. This growth may remain small or grow large enough to interfere with vision. A pterygium can often develop from a pinguecula.
Some pterygia may become red and swollen on occasion, and some may become large or thick, making you feel like you have something in your eye. If a pterygium is large enough, it can actually affect the shape of the cornea’s surface, leading to astigmatism.

It is not entirely clear what causes pterygia and pingueculae to develop. Ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun is believed to be a factor in the development of these growths. Other factors believed to cause pterygia and pingueculae are dry eye and environmental elements such as wind and dust.

Pinguecula and Pterygium Symptoms

In most people, the first sign of a pinguecula is a yellowish patch or bump on the conjunctiva, usually on the side of the eye closest to the nose.

A pinguecula usually has few symptoms, however, if it becomes irritated, you may feel as if you have something in your eye. In some cases, pingueculae become swollen and inflamed. Irritation and eye redness may occur, particularly if you are significantly exposed to sun, wind, dust or a very dry environment. With a pterygium, some people may have no symptoms other than the growth appearing. For others, especially those who have a pterygium that is growing, there can be redness, inflammation or both.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Itching
  • Burning
  • Gritty feeling
  • Feeling of having foreign material in your eye

Pterygia and pingueculae generally don’t require treatment until symptoms are severe enough. When pingueculae or pterygium become red and irritated, lubricating eye drops or ointments or possibly a mild steroid eye drop may be used to help reduce inflammation.

If these growths become large enough to threaten sight or cause persistent discomfort, they can be removed surgically by an ophthalmologist in an outpatient procedure. They are also sometimes removed for cosmetic reasons.