Ever had that feeling that a grain of sand or some other small irritant is stuck in your eye? One cause of this feeling is pinguecula.
While the name may sound serious, the condition is extremely common and rarely needs treatment beyond artificial tears. Surgery is usually not recommended or required, but doctors may prescribe steroid eye drops in cases of severe irritation resulting in redness or swelling.
Besides the sensation of an irritant in the eye, another sign you may have pinguecula is a yellow spot on the white of your eye. High levels of exposure to sun, dry air, and dust cause gradual degeneration of the conjunctiva—the thin, filmy membrane that covers the sclera (or white of the eye). The yellow spot is the result of fat, protein, or even calcium being deposited on the conjunctiva.
It is more common for the yellow spot to form on the side of the eye nearest the nose. This happens because the sun’s rays reflect somewhat off the nose itself and into the eye.
In addition, pinguecula is more common in the tropics, where sunlight intensity is greatest. Exposure to UV rays is a risk factor.
The fatty deposits can also form when the eye is chronically irritated by something. This includes dust. In this way, pinguecula is similar to a callus. Both form a bump or overlayer as a response to recurring irritation. The yellow spot is usually raised.
In some cases, the condition may develop into pterygium (also called surfer’s eye or farmer’s eye), in which the growth becomes fleshy tissue and may even grow large enough to affect vision. In such cases, the growth can be surgically removed.
To prevent reoccurrence of either type of growth, eye care professionals recommend wearing wraparound sunglasses to limit UV exposure, using artificial tears in dry conditions, and protecting the eyes from dust with goggles when necessary.