I received this question from a facebook fan yesterday. And practicing in Virginia Beach, where outdoor activities are such an important part of our local culture, this is a pretty common question. The yellowish, slightly
raised areas on the white part of the eye are called Pinguecula (pin-ˈgwek-ye-la). It’s a pretty funny word, but essentially they are areas of local tissue changes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) light. The whitish parts of our eyes (conjunctiva) should be fairly soft, clear and flat. However, with repeated exposure to UV light, in the absence of sunglasses, parts of the conjunctiva are changed into a harder, denser nodule that takes on the yellow color that patients notice. Typically, pinguecula arise in older patients but they are not uncommon in younger adults who have a history of performing outdoor activities without wearing sunglasses.
Most often pinguecula do not produce symptoms beyond cosmetic annoyance. Although, sometimes pinguecula can develop inflammation and cause the eyes to become red and irritated. In these situations, artificial tears or prescription anti-inflammatory eye drops may be appropriate.
There is no cure for pinguecula. Surgical removal isn’t advised because the nodules are benign and typically symptomless. The best course of action is UV-blocking sunglasses to prevent progression in size of the yellow nodules. With continued UV exposure, pinguecula may evolve into pterygia (tuh-rij-ee-uh) which can cause vision problems.
Pterygia are essentially ingrowths of vascular and fibrous material onto the surface of the cornea. These areas can become inflammed and swollen, causing mild to moderate episodes of discomfort. But more importantly, the progression of Pterygia into the center part of the cornea will result in reduced vision and necessitate surgical removal by a corneal specialist.
Thanks for the question and remember that every time you go outside to enjoy Hampton Road’s many activities to grab your sunblock and UV-blocking sunglasses (and probably a bottle or two of water!)
As always, I’d love to hear your comments or questions. Give us a shout over on Facebook or on Google+. And, remember, you can now request an appointment for your annual eye exam at our office by clicking here.