Pinguecula and Pterygium (Surfer’s Eye)


A pinguecula is characterized by a yellowish raised part of the scleral conjunctiva, or the lining of the white part of the eye, and usually develops near the cornea (the colored part of the eye), but does not extend past it.  Changes in tissues can lead to the buildup of calcium, fat, and/or protein, causing the bump or patch known as a pinguecula, which is similar to a callus on the skin.

Pinguecula Symptoms

If you have a pinguecula you may feel like something is caught in your eye. Occasionally a pinguecula leads to pingueculitis, a condition in which the pinguecula becomes red, irritated and swollen. Often exposure to extreme dryness, sun, wind or dust leads to pingueculitis. This is one reason why it’s always a good idea to wear a hat and sunglasses while outdoors.

Pinguecula Causes

The exact cause of pinguecula is not fully understood, but unprotected exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet rays is a suspected culprit.

Pinguecula Diagnosis and Treatment

Your eye care professional can diagnose pinguecula with an examination in which a slit lamp is used to view the eye closely. Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms present. Your provider may prescribe lubricating eye drops to relieve mild irritation, and if inflammation is present, either steroid eye drops or oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs can also be prescribed. In severe cases, where the pinguecula interferes with vision, blinking, or the wearing of contact lenses, surgical removal might be necessary.


Pingueculae often lead to the formation of pterygia. A pterygia is a wedge-shaped growth elevated from the scleral conjunctiva which grow past the cornea. Like pingueculae, pterygia are benign growths, but they contain blood vessels and can transform the eye’s shape with scar tissue, causing permanent disfigurement of the structure.

Pterygium Cause and Symptoms

A pterygium is exacerbated by exposure to wind and sun. For this reason, the condition is often called surfer’s eye. Pterygia often cause the sensation that a foreign body is in the eye and can become red and swollen. When a pterygium grows large enough, it can distort the shape of the eye, resulting in visual acuity problems, including astigmatism

Pterygium Diagnosis and Treatment

As with pinguecula, your eye care professional can make a diagnosis based on a close observation with a slit lamp. Treatment depends on the severity of symptoms, the causes, and whether the pterygium is growing. Mild cases can be treated with steroid eye drops. Severe cases may require surgical removal, which is usually performed in the doctor’s office with local anesthetics. To prevent regrowth, an eye care provider might perform an autologous conjunctival autografting.

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