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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.

What is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium?

Pinguecula and Pterygium Symptoms

Pinguecula and Pterygium Diagnosis and Treatment

A pinguecula (above) 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 (also known as surfer's eye or farmer's eye) 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

Pterygium (Surfer's eye).

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 corneas 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 (Surfer's Eye) 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.

What is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium?

Pinguecula and Pterygium Symptoms

Pinguecula and Pterygium Diagnosis and Treatment

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



Gritty feeling

Feeling of having foreign material in your eye

Pterygium (Surfer's eye). 2015 American Academy of Ophthalmology

Pinguecula and Pterygium (Surfer's Eye) Diagnosis and


An ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) can diagnose pterygia and pingueculae through an examination
using a slit-lamp (pictured at left). This device allows your Eye M.D. to closely examine the
eyes cornea, iris, lens and the space between the iris and cornea. The doctor is able to closely
examine the eye in small sections, making it easier to see abnormalities.

What is a Pinguecula and a Pterygium?

Pinguecula and Pterygium Symptoms

Pinguecula and Pterygium Diagnosis and Treatment

Pterygia and pingueculae generally dont require treatment until symptoms are severe enough.
When pingueculae or pterygium become red and irritated, lubricating eyedrops 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 Eye M.D. in an outpatient procedure. They are also sometimes
removed for cosmetic reasons.
For milder pterygia, a topical anesthetic can be used before surgery to numb the eye's surface.
Your eyelids will be kept open while the pterygium is surgically removed. After the
procedure, which usually lasts no longer than half an hour depending on the type of surgery done
to remove the pterygium, you likely will need to wear an eye patch for protection for a day or
two. You should be able to return to work or normal activities the next day. Note that pterygium
removal can cause astigmatism or worsen the condition in people who already have this
refractive error.
After removal of the pterygium, steroid eye drops may be used for several weeks to decrease
swelling and prevent regrowth.

Pterygium (Surfer's eye). 2015 American Academy of Ophthalmology

Despite proper surgical removal, pterygium may return. In fact, the recurrence rate is between 30
and 40 percent, and is more likely among people under age 40. To prevent regrowth after
surgery, your Eye M.D. may suture or glue a piece of surface eye tissue onto the affected area.
This method, called autologous conjunctival autografting, has a low recurrence rate. Medications
that prevent tissue growth are sometimes used to help prevent recurrences of pinguecula or
The best way to avoid recurrence of pinguecula or pterygium after treatment is to limit exposure
to the environmental factors that contribute to their growth.

Adequately protect your eyes from excessive UV light with proper,

wraparound sunglasses.

Protect your eyes in dry, dusty conditions with proper eyewear.

Apply artificial tears to your eyes in dry conditions.

Although they may appear similar, a pterygium and a pinguecula are slightly
different, and may require different treatments.

Both a pterygium and a pinguecula are abnormal growths that form on the surface of the eye.
While they may appear similar, and have similar symptoms and causes, they are actually
different conditions.

Left: Pinguecula (ae = plural)

Right: Pterygium - pre-operation

A pterygium (plural pterygia) is a wedge-shaped growth of abnormal tissue that forms on the
eye. While they are benign (non-cancerous) and relatively harmless, they can sometimes extend
onto the cornea (the clear front window of the eye) where they may affect vision.

Pterygium symptoms

A pterygium can usually be seen as a fleshy, pink growth on the white of the eye, and may occur
in one eye or both. They occur between the eyelids, most often in the corner of the eye, close to
the nose, but can sometimes extend onto the cornea.
Many people with a pterygium feel as if there is something in their eye. Pterygium symptoms
also include dry eyes, irritation, inflammation and redness. They can also make it more difficult
or uncomfortable to wear contact lenses.
If the pterygium extends onto the cornea it can cause blurred vision as the curvature of the
cornea is altered, or it can also obscure vision.
Causes of pterygia

It is thought that environmental factors, such as a warm climate, dust and UV light, are the main
causes of pterygia. People who live in hot, dry, sunny regions and spend a lot of time outdoors
have a higher chance of developing a pterygium than others. The risk is also increased by not
wearing sunglasses or a sun hat.
Sports people such as sailors and skiers also have a high incidence of pterygia, because of the
high levels of reflected UV light they encounter. Pterygia are also more common in areas where

there is ozone layer depletion, such as New Zealand, and in people who work in dirty, dusty
Pterygia usually occur in people aged 20 to 50, and are more common in men. However, it could
be that their association with dirty, dusty environments accounts for the higher incidence in men.

A pinguecula (plural pingueculae) is very similar to a pterygium, and the two are often confused.
However, a pinguecula occurs only on the conjunctiva (the thin, protective membrane that covers
the surface of the eye), and will not grow across the cornea.
Pinguecla symptoms

A pinguecula has very similar symptoms to a pterygium. It usually appears as a creamy-coloured,

chalky growth on the white of the eye, between the eyelids. A pinguecula will also normally
occur in the corner of the eye, near the nose, and can affect one eye or both.
Just like a pterygium, a pinguecula can cause irritation, as well as difficulty wearing contact
lenses. However, a pinguecula cannot grow across the cornea, and therefore will not affect
vision. In some cases though, a pinguecula can become a pterygium, in which case it may grow
onto the cornea.
Causes of pingueculae

Just like pterygia, pingueculae generally occur between the ages of 20 and 50. They are also
thought to be caused by environmental factors, such as climate, dust and UV light.
Treating a pterygium or pinguecula

Following Pterygium removal and conjuctival graft

There a number of different treatments for a pterygium or pinguecula. Normally, pterygium

surgery will only be undertaken if the pterygium has severe symptoms, or is affecting vision.
Otherwise, management with eye drops is usually recommended.
Pingueculae are rarely surgically removed, and are usually treated with eye drops. However, if
the pinguecula turns into a pterygium, surgery may be the best course.
If youd like to discuss pterygium or pinguecula treatment with a specialist, simply make an
appointment with one of our eye surgeons today.