Pinguecula and Pterygium – Symptoms, Treatment – How to Distinguish

Pinguecula and Pterygium are 2 types of very similar eye growths that are often mistaken for one another. Learning the difference can help you avoid misdiagnosis and seek proper treatment in cooperation with your ophthalmologist.

How to Distinguish Between the Two?

Pinguecula and Pterygium - Symptoms, How to Differentiate

It's not difficult to distinguish between the two conditions. However, you will need to consult a doctor to be completely certain.

Pinguecula Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

A Pinguecula is characterized by a yellowish swelling of the conjunctiva, near the outer edges of the cornea. These growths usually manifest in the white area of the eyeball in the space that is most frequently exposed to sunlight (which has been linked as an aggravating factor to this condition). In fact, middle-aged or senior adults that spend lots of time exposed to the sun are more likely to develop Pingueculae. Nonetheless, it is possible for younger adults and children to develop these growths, particularly if they often play outside without some form of visual protection like hats, visors, or sunglasses.

Fortunately, most people with a pinguecula are asymptomatic (suffer from no symptoms at all). However, if the growth becomes irritated it is not uncommon for patients to complain of the sensation that something is stuck in their eye. If the pinguecula becomes inflamed the condition is called pingueculitis, which typically results in irritated, red, swollen eyes. A pinguecula can be easily aggravated by excess exposure to wind, sunlight, dust, or very arid weather conditions.

Treatment for a pinguecula may consist of eyedrops to relieve dry eyes and irritation, and sunglasses to protect the eyes from ultraviolet radiation and further aggravation. In some cases, steroidal or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory prescription eyedrops may be used to bring down swelling in and around the eye. If the pinguecula grows to the point of interfering with vision, blinking, or putting in contact lenses, surgery may be required to remove the growth.

Pterygium Definition, Symptoms, and Treatment

If left untreated, a pinguecula will often promote the development of a pterygium – a wedge-like growth that can cause scar tissue to form on the eye and invade the corneal surface. Although pterygium are noncancerous, their appearance can be quite unsettling and having one can lead to significant social, emotional, and visual challenges. Similar to pinguecula, pterygium have also been linked to excessive exposure to sunlight.

There are lots of people that have a pterygium but do not require any type of treatment or surgery. Occasionally, a pterygium can become inflamed and create the sensation of having a foreign object stuck in the eye, or just an aesthetically unappealing bump on the eye. Severe cases of pterygia can distort the corneal surface to the point of causing astigmatism, prompting the need for treatment.

A smaller pterygium that temporarily swells up may be treated using steroid eyedrops to bring down inflammation and redness. If the pterygium is continuously growing larger, surgery may be required to remove the growth. There are several types of surgeries used to remove pterygia. Less serious growths can be removed within half an hour doctor's visit after simply numbing the area with the topical anesthetic. The surgeon props the eyelids open with a speculum and surgically removes the pterygium. Although you may be required to wear an eye patch for 24 to 48 hours after the surgery, most people are able to resume their daily activities the following day.

Pterygium Prognosis

Sadly, studies have shown that approximately 40% of individuals experience a regrowth of pterygia within months after having it surgically removed. Research also shows that Hispanic individuals have a higher risk of growth recurrence than Caucasians. Some doctors choose to utilize a surgical technique known as autologous conjunctival autografting to effectively decrease the likelihood of pterygium regrowth. This procedure involves the surgeon suturing a small graph of eye tissue onto the area where the pterygium was removed. Some doctors also complement this preventative measure using topical applications of prescription antimetabolites that slow the process of tissue growth in the affected area. 

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