It’s common wisdom that you need to wear sunglasses and hats to protect your eyes from the sun. But other than feeling uncomfortable in the blinding light without your shades, do you know what can actually happen to your eyes from too much UV rays? I didn’t. I just wore my sunglasses when I felt like the sun was too bright for my eyes.
Well, I discovered you can develop a harmless, but unsightly condition called pinguecula. I had noticed a yellow, raised bump on the white of one of my eyes and went to the opthamologist. I discovered that my eyes had pinguecula. Pinguecula is thought to be caused by a combination of dry eyes and too much exposure to UV rays and wind over a lifetime – it doesn’t appear overnight. “Everyone gets them as they get older,” according to two optometrists that I also quizzed. In most cases, nobody but you can see them unless you really look. In fact, upon closer inspection, I realized that mild pinguecula was on the whites of all the corners of my eyes, and not just one. But, if you’re somewhat vain like me, it’ll bother you! And I’m bummed by yet another marker of my age (past 40!) Remember when your eyes used to be perfectly white?
“Thought to be caused” or “believed to be caused” by dry eyes or the elements, is the terminology used on all the websites, which makes me think that no one definitively knows the cause. Anyway, now that I know the possible causes, I wish that I would have been more protective of my eyes throughout my life, starting from childhood!
What can you do for pinguecula once you have it? Apparently, nothing really. Mostly, you try to prevent your pinguecula from getting worse by minimizing dry eyes and your eyes’ exposure to UV rays and wind. Typically, eye professionals will tell you that there is nothing you can really do to reduce it and that it is harmless unless it obstructs your vision.
I found some information on standard and alternative treatments:
- For severe cases, there is simple surgery to remove the pinguecula, but it can often return. There is also a controversial, surgical eye-whitening procedure called I-Brite that sounds like it carries a high level of risk to eye health.
- Dry eye irritation may result from or be caused by pinguecula, so there are drops you can take for symptom relief.
- OTC allergy eye drops such as Zatidor, and Alaway. I found online comments about Alaway stinging the eyes, but my optometrist told me to try Alaway. He said that almost all of his patients find that it works better. He would know, he’s a very successful and busy optometrist. I tried Zatidor first and found the drops to be soothing and not stinging, but I may still try Alaway later for comparison.
- There are also prescription drops such as Pataday (which essentially have the same purpose). People’s eyes seem to have different reactions to drops so you will just have to try and find the one that works for you.
- My ophthalmologist prescribed me a steroid eye drop called Lotemax. She said it was unlikely to do anything to minimize the pinguecula (“but you can always try”). At the very least, it could help to reduce some of the redness and inflammation in my eyes. I decided against it – I could only use it for 1 week because prolonged use could increase the chances of glaucoma and it cost $160 even with insurance.
- A cardiovascular drug, Dipyridamole has been repurposed as an eye drop to treat pinguecula with some success. It’s still undergoing research and trials, and doesn’t seem to be widely available.
- In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), various herbs are recommended to treat eye disorders. TCM views pinguecula as a weakness of the liver. I was only familiar with chrysanthemum tea and goji berries which help the liver. Here is my post about how to prepare it and where to get it. Ideally, you get the organic stuff because these days, if it’s from China, you’re never really sure what they may have added while growing it.
- Reducing eye strain (yes, that means putting down your smartphone from time to time!) and getting enough sleep should also help. Eye strain and fatigue can exacerbate dry eyes. This requires a lot of self-discipline for many of us! Everything is oh so unfortunately and fortunately connected.
I settled on an approach to reduce the dryness of my eyes (through drops and regular consumption of chrysanthemum tea), more regular sleep, and ensure that my eyes are well-protected from the elements. I’ll be monitoring my pingueculas to see if any of it helps!