A sudden rush to the optometrist is often precipitated by an awareness of a new bump that appears to have grown overnight on the white part of the eye. Sometimes a person will notice it when looking in a mirror, or a family member will comment on a new growth they see. Sometimes cancer does cause growths to appear on the white part of the eye but this is fairly rare. More likely the bump is on the conjunctiva, the clear tissue overlaying the white part of the eye known as the sclera. Usually this type of growth is benign and very slow growing, and typically is diagnosed as a pinguecula. The appearance often has a slightly yellow tinge, but in can be a white translucent color. When they become mildly irritated, blood vessels heighten their visibility. Many new contact lens wearers spend significant time closely examining their eyes in a mirror than ever before as they learn to handle contact lenses during the first few weeks. This is a common cause for first noticing a growth that probably has been present for several years.
Pinguecula are caused by ultraviolet exposure from the sun and low level irritation such as blowing dust and particles. People who spend significant time outdoors are more at risk, especially closer to the equator. Sun from the snow and water creates more ultraviolet exposure, as most people have learned from sunburns. If it damages your skin the same process is happening on the conjunctiva, only faster. The conjunctive tissue lacks the protective keratin layer the skin has. It also does not form a protective accumulation of pigment from sunlight exposure (the conjunctiva does not tan). Higher altitudes equate with less atmosphere to filter out UV radiation and subsequently more dosage on the eye. The ultraviolet radiation acts to degrade the structural framework of the tissue including the elastic proteins and collagen. Over many year, the growth slowly develops. By the time people are 75 to 80 years old the majority will have some sign of a growth, even if it is not noticeable in the mirror.
The largest concern is a serious eye problem, and any growth on the eye requires a visit to the eye doctor for a proper diagnosis. Prevention is the second thing you should think of once it has been diagnosed as a pinguecula. Ultraviolet protection is of up most importance. When you think of sunscreen, think of sunscreen for your eyes. Quality sunglasses can eliminate almost all of the ultraviolet radiation from a frontal direction. Up to 40% may still enter from the sides, so many people choose frames that wrap around their face or have large side temples on the sides. Lenses that automatically lighten and darken also block almost all frontal UV. Hats with brows reduce the amount of sunlight. Recommendations for sun exposure are similar to those for avoiding skin cancer. Avoid being outside between 11 am to 3 pm. The mornings and late afternoons supply longer pathways for the sun to travel though and subsequently filter out more U.V. Motorcycle wearers have the risk of both sunlight and flying particles and should wear specially designed frames that wrap and seal to their face. Give your children an early dose of prevention by having them wear sunglasses starting at a young age. A note of caution for sunglasses–make sure they are high quality and not a $5.00 imitation. Dark lenses allow the eye to dilate and if there is inadequate UV protection the exposure will actually be higher than it would be without sun wear. Since visible violet and blue light may be deleterious to the inside of the eye you should also avoid blue and violet sun glass lenses.
Occasionally pinguecula become very red and inflamed. This is not a infection and can be treated if needed with prescription eye drops. Remember, you only two eyes and you should do everything you can to make sure they stay healthy, including having any new appearance of a growth checked by your optometrist.