A pinguecula is a benign, non-cancerous growth on the outside of the eye. It grows on the conjunctiva, the clear, mucous membrane that lines the outside of the eyeball on top of the sclera. It appears as a round, yellowish fatty lesion and can be found on the nasal side or the temporal side of the eye. The word "pinguecula" has latin roots and means fatty tissue.

Pinguecula are caused by ultraviolet radiation from our sun and exposure to wind.

They are much more common in the southern hemisphere. Pinguecula are more commonly found on the nasal side of the eye because the sun’s rays hit the side of the nose and reflect into our eye. Protein, fat and calcium becomes deposited on the eye. Many doctor’s describe it like a callous on your hand. It is theorized that they grow in order to protect your eye from further UV damage.

Signs and symptoms of a pinguecula are:

When a pinguecula gets irritated, the condition is called pingueculitis. When they become inflamed, they may appear red and appear larger and swollen. Usually, exposure to the outside elements such as wind can aggravate a pinguecula.

A pinguecula usually does not grow much larger. However, occasionally it can. They can begin to enlarge and grow up onto the cornea. As it grows and turns into the triangular-winged shape and grows up onto the cornea, it is called a pterygium.

Once it grows up onto the cornea, it can cause blurred vision. A pterygium can create large amounts of astigmatism and some corneal distortion.  

If a pinguecula is not inflamed then no treatment is necessary. If mildly symptomatic, some doctors will recommend artificial tears several times per day.

Artificial tears are over the counter and can be comforting to a symptomatic patient. If the eye become red and the pinguecula appears swollen, doctors may recommend a short course of topical steroid eye drops. This will not make the pinguecula go away, but it will alleviate the redness, swelling and symptoms.

Ways to prevent the growth of pinguecula:

  • Wear high quality sunglasses with UV protection at a very early age whenever in the sun

  • Wear wide-brimmed hats during outdoor activities

  • Instill artificial tears several times per day if working outside in the wind

If a pinguecula becomes larger or grows into a pterygium, surgical removal is an option. The procedure may be performed at your doctor’s office or in an operating room setting. The procedure last less than 30 minutes. Because regrowth can be as high as 50%-75%, most surgeons will use an amniotic membrane graft to reduce the chance of recurrence.  Also, sometimes certain enzymes, such as mitomycin C, are used to decrease the likelihood of regrowth. Sometimes an eye patch is worn for the first day and antibiotic-steroid eye drops are prescribed for a certain amount of time after the surgery.  If the surgery was uncomplicated, most patients can return to work or school the next day.