By Dr. Cynthia Payne

A common concern among patients here in our dry desert is the appearance of a yellowish bump on the white part of the eye or the white thing growing over the eye. These descriptions will usually refer to pinguecula or pterygium growing on the eyeball. Both result from UV exposure, dust, allergens, or dryness and are in response to an irritant.

Pinguecula grows on the white part of the eye and is a thickened, yellowish bump. When the pinguecula is inflamed, it may swell and look larger than normal. The size and appearance of the pinguecula are also affected by the deposits of protein, lipid, or calcium left when the swelling goes down. When the eyes become irritated, the area of the pinguecula may also have a bloodshot appearance accompanied by pain. Pinguecula most commonly develop on the nasal side of the eye. They can be uncomfortable and further irritated by contact lens wear, but they do not affect vision.

Pterygium is more noticeable because it extends up onto the cornea. It has the appearance of a white band growing across the colored part of the eye and becomes cosmetically undesirable. Pterygium may begin as a pinguecula and can become red and painful when irritated or inflamed. Pterygium is also known as “surfer’s eye.” If the pterygium grows too far into the center of the cornea it may block vision. The fleshy band of the pterygium can distort the shape of the cornea and cause increased astigmatism or blurred vision. Like pinguecula, it is more common on the nasal side.

The best way to keep pinguecula from forming or growing is to wear UV protection outdoors and use artificial tears to lubricate and flush the eyes. A steroid drop may be necessary if they become red and painful to decrease the inflammation. Pinguecula rarely require surgery but pterygium may need surgery if it grows enough or distorts the cornea enough to affect vision. Some patients will request surgical removal to improve aesthetics, which can work well for these, but a small percentage of pinguecula may grow back.

This article is not intended to treat or diagnose any medical issues. If you are experiencing redness, pain, or any swelling or growth on the eye, please consult an eye care professional.

Dr. Cynthia Payne, optometrist, enjoys traveling, reading and the fabulous Las Vegas weather. She provides eye exams and eye care for patients at Trendsetter Eyewear by appointment. Trendsetter Eyewear stocks a wide selection of both fashionable designer and sports sunglasses to help protect your eyes from damaging UV and dust. Trendsetter Eyewear is located at 1225 S. Fort Apache Rd., Ste. 145, Las Vegas, NV 89117 and appointments may be scheduled by calling 702.479.5222 or online at