Friday, January 15, 2010

Yellow Growths on the Sides of the Eyeball

I am frequently asked by patients about a yellow/whitish/sometimes glistening growth on the sides of the eyeball. Typically these growths are at the 3:00 and 9:00 positions to the side of the colored part of the eye. There are two official descriptions for theses growths.

The first description applies to when the growths are only on the white part of the eye. In this case the growth is called a pinguecula. These growths are thought to be more common in individuals that spend alot of time outdoors. Here are a few examples: Farmers, gardeners, skiers, surfers, lifeguards, people living in tropical climates, and people who spend a lot of time outdoors and do not used any sun protection. The pinguecula is not a serious problem, but it can be irritating to the patient as the growth is elevated compared to the other parts of the eye. Because it is elevated, it is more exposed to wind, sun, irritation and it can dry out earlier. Pingueculas can become reddened when irritated and can become cosmetically unpleasing.

The second description of the yellow growths applies to when the growth actually grows onto the cornea (the clear "window" that covers the colored part of the eye...the iris). In this case the growth is described as a pterygium. The causes of the pterygium are the same as with the pinguecula. It is just a farther advanced case of the tissue growth. When the tissue grows onto the cornea it can become more irritating and red. It also becomes more cosmetically unacceptable as it is red and uncomfortable most of the time. There is a risk that the pterygium could grow far enough on the cornea that it could cause some loss of vision. This can be prevented by seeing an eye doctor early enough to take care of the problem before it becomes too serious.

Not all pingueculas become a pterygium. It depends upon many factors. It is important to realize that if you have a pinguecula there is a risk that it could become a pterygium. The best way to avoid the change is to protect the eyes from the sun and wind. The patient should wear good quality sun protection when outdoors and wear a hat for extra protection.

Both pingueculas and pterygia can be surgically removed if necessary. This can best be achieved by an ophthalmologist that is a corneal specialist. If you have any questions or would like the names of corneal specialists that I work with please email me at

If you have any questions please contact your eye doctor for a thorough evaluation.


  1. Thanks for this helpful article. I am curious what a typical pinguecula removal surgery costs and whether there are more than normal risks associated with this type of surgery. Sometimes contact lenses rub against them, so they become irritating after a while, not to mention they are not pleasing to look at. I also wondered if there is anything patients can diagnose at home to determine if a pinguecula is becoming or has become a pterygia.

  2. I can recommend Dr. Robert Feinfield. He is an ophthalmologist that specializes in pterygium surgery. His number is: 818 980-2020. If you have access to a magnified make up mirror, you can look at the cornea in the mirror and you should be able to see if the growth has encroached onto the cornea from the white part of the eye. If this does not work for you, an eye doctor can certainly tell you by looking at your eyes with a biomicroscope (referred to as a "slit lamp"). Good luck.

  3. Hi Dr. jon,
    thank you very much for your useful article. I am having this problem right now and there are some questions I would like to ask you:

    1. the yellow parts on both eyes are a little bit raised when I look at them in a mirror, and they are very close(looks like connecting) to the black eayball in the centre. is there any risk associated this condition apart from growing pterygium?

    2. I think I get this because I have been working too much with computers. can I continue working with computers without making it worse?

    3. If I am going to do the surgery, does my eyes get weaker than normal after recovery?

    I thank for your time and advice in advance.