What are pinguecula and pterygium and what`s the difference between them?

Pinguecula and pterygium are quite similar in that they are both growths on the surface of the eye.

While they may appear similar they are in fact two different conditions. The main difference between them is that while a pinguecula will not affect your vision a pterygium may do so.

This is because in a pterygium the abnormal growth may cover part of the cornea, affecting your vision.

What is a pinguecula?

A pinguecula is a chalky or yellowish growth on the surface of the white of the eye. It grows on the thin protective membrane covering the surface of the eye (conjunctiva).

Fortunately, it’s not cancerous and never extends to the cornea. It`s more common than a pterygium, will not affect your vision, and is generally harmless.

A pinguecula is usually in one corner of the eye, near the nose. You can have a pinguecula in one eye or both. The condition is non-contagious.

Pinguecula comes from the Latin word “pinguis” (meaning “fat”) even though it does not contain any fat.

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Symptoms of a pinguecula

The condition can cause irritation, and make it difficult to wear contact lenses. However, in some cases, a pinguecula can turn into a pterygium, involving the cornea. Hence the importance of regular check-ups with an ophthalmologist.


We see pinguecula most commonly in middle-aged or elderly clients. The current scientific consensus is that over-exposure to bright sunshine and ultraviolet light is the main cause.

However, this can be exacerbated by smoke, dust, wind or air pollution. Certain professions such as welders may be at greater risk of developing a pinguecula.

People who have dry eyes, contact lens wearers, and those with certain types of diabetes may be at great risk.


Because a pinguecula is generally benign, treatment is not usually necessary unless the eye gets inflamed or irritated. Any treatment will be specific to your overall health condition and will take into account your medical history.

Eye drops are the most common form of treatment, as in the case of dry eyes. If you have severe irritation or inflammation your ophthalmologist may prescribe anti-inflammatory eye drops for short term-use. In some cases he or she may prescribe steroid eye drops. However, it’s worth knowing that no eye drop treatments will make pinguecula disappear.

What about Surgery?

If it is a major cosmetic concern or causes discomfort a pinguecula may be surgically removed.

However, most specialists do not recommend surgical removal of a pinguecula unless it turns into a pterygium. Even then, surgery may not be appropriate. Be aware that there is a high rate of reoccurrence after surgical removal of a pinguecula.

Now, let’s take a look at what a pterygium is.

What is a pterygium?

A pterygium, meaning “little wing”, is a tissue growth that occurs on the cornea of the eye. Pterygia are pinkish in color and triangular in shape. The growth begins in the conjunctiva (the membrane that covers the whites of the eyes) and spreads to the cornea. Most pterygia are small and slow growing. They can affect just one or both eyes, and there is a heightened chance of both eyes being affected if a pterygium appears in one. Pterygium is sometimes known as “Surfer’s Eye”.

Causes of pterygium

Although ophthalmologists and the medical community do not 100 percent know what causes a pterygium, the most likely cause is sun damage. The sun’s ultraviolet rays may lead to a damaged conjunctiva. Dust and genetic factors could also play a part.

Is a pterygium contagious?

No, pterygia cannot be spread from person to person.


The best prevention for pterygia starts in childhood with sun protection. Using hats with a wide brim and UV protection sunglasses might help to prevent a pterygium developing.


Early on in the process, pterygia do not usually cause any obvious symptoms. But for some patients a pterygium may lead to symptoms consistent with dry eye, like itching, burning, or tearing. This happens because the growth causes the ocular surface to be irregularly moist.

As the pterygium grows in size and becomes increasingly visible to the naked eye, the condition often becomes cosmetically unappealing to the patient. Aside from purely cosmetic concerns, pterygia can cause visual disturbances and visual symptoms when they are large because they encroach on the visual axis.


Treatment for both pinguecula and pterygium will depend on the size of the growths, and the state that the conditions have progressed to.

Simple treatments for a pterygium like artificial tears and certain eye drops help to relieve the irritation and burning symptoms that a pterygium can cause. For very aggressive symptoms, an ophthalmologist might prescribe anti-allergy drops or anti-inflammatory drops.

If a pterygium has grown so large that a patient’s vision is affected, the growth might need to be surgically removed. Surgeons often take steps to prevent the regrowth of the pterygium. These steps might include a transplant of conjunctiva from another area in the eye, anti-metabolite drugs, or localized radiation to the area.

The condition can sometimes be mistaken for other conditions such as pinguecula. Left untreated, pterygia can cause astigmatisms, loss of vision, and painful and irritating dry eye symptoms. Caught early though, the symptoms and potential dangers of a pterygium are easily managed.

If you think you may have a pterygium do not hesitate in getting it checked by one of our ophthalmologists.

Stay Safe

Simple actions to take to reduce your risk of the conditions include wearing sunglasses when out in bright sunshine. A wide-brimmed hat also helps keep the eyes in shade.

Your eyesight is incredibly important. Be sure to have regular check-ups if you notice any changes in your eyes or vision.

Contact us today If you or your loved one suspect you may have pinguecula and pterygium.

Do not hesitate to get your eyes checked out by one of our doctors.