“What are these yellow spots on my eyes?” is a frequently asked question at Coastal Vision due to the popularity of outdoor lifestyles here in Hampton Roads. These yellowish, slightly raised spots 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 fair 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 as we age, but they are not uncommon in in younger adults who have a history of engaging in 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.
The biggest takeaway is if you see these spots developing on your eyes, it is a sure sign that your eyes are not being adequately protected from the sun’s damaging UV light and investing in a pair of quality, UV-blocking sunglasses is necessary to prevent progression and the onset of other issues.
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