When we are exposed to ultraviolet “UV” light, our body tissues change. This is why our skin gets darker or more wrinkly over time, and is the main reason why sunscreen is so important and stressed during the summer months. 

UV light can also cause short-term damage to our eyes in as little as fifteen minutes and long-term damage with extended exposure. 

You may have heard the terms pinguecula and pterygium used to describe this UV damage; however, there are key differences between the two, specifically, that pterygium is harmful to your vision if left untreated. Read on to find out how to tell the difference between the two.


Symptoms: Which One Do I Have?

What is this yellow growth on the white part of my eye?  What is this film growing on my cornea? If you have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered why your eye had a small yellow raised area on the whites of your eye, wonder no more. 

Pinguecula – A small, yellow, fleshy growth on the sclera (the protective outer layer) of our eye. The growth occurs because of UV light exposure. 
Pterygium – Or surfer’s eye, is when sun exposure/UV light causes damage that advances beyond the border of our cornea. A pterygium can remain small or grow quite large and extend towards the pupil. 


Differences: Pinguecula vs Pterygium

Pterygium can be a lot more obvious to you because it is growing on the clear surface known as the cornea. It is also known to change the shape of the cornea, which causes changes in your vision, or an increase in astigmatism if not treated. A pterygium can easily become inflamed with wind and further UV exposure as well. 

Unlike a pterygium, a pinguecula is typically not harmful to your vision. 


How to Prevent These Growths

We recommend using polarized sunglasses to protect against all forms of direct and indirect UV light and halt the progression of these types of tissue growth. We also recommend using preservative-free artificial tears often throughout the day to prevent any dryness and irritation. 

It is important to have all ocular eye growths or discolorations examined by an eye care professional to establish the type of growth you have and baseline photo documentation in case of any immediate changes. 


Treating Pterygium

If the lesion has no symptoms, it is possible that no surgical treatment is needed. Simply using preservative-free drops for dry eyes or eye drops that contain steroid medications may be sufficient to relieve any inflammation that occurs.

If drops do not help in aiding the inflammation or discomfort or the lesion begins to grow over the corneaof the eye and your vision becomes blurred, pterygium surgery may be necessary to help restore vision and prevent further growth. Surgery to remove the pterygium is typically performed in an outpatient setting with topical and local anesthetic. A mild intravenous sedative is also given to help relax the patient throughout the surgical process which can last around 30 minutes.

After the procedure, patients may experience some mild irritation, redness, and blurry vision; however, they can return to normal activities within the first few days.  Full recovery can take several weeks to one month and patients are instructed to use antibiotic and steroid drop for the first 1-2 months to reduce inflammation and prevent the risk of infections.


Speak with your health care professional

It is important to have regular eye exams to monitor the progression and wear protective glasses that shield all angles of the eye from harmful UV rays to prevent and slow the growth.

Contact us to discuss your treatment options and schedule an appointment today!