Only a few medical conditions cause lumps or bumps to form on the eyeball itself. However, some injuries to the surrounding area can appear to cause bumps on the eyeball, especially if the injury is under the eyelid or a person cannot see well.
Most bumps on the eyeball are relatively harmless growths called pterygia and pingueculae, which are caused by prolonged eye irritation.
In this article, learn about these and other types of bumps on the eyeball. We also describe how these bumps are diagnosed and treated.
Types and causes
As a pterygium grows, it could make it more difficult for a person to see.
Image credit: Sciencia58, 2017
Most lumps or bumps on the eye are caused by irritation. The following factors may irritate the eye:
- allergic reactions
- fallen eyelashes
- exposure to sun
A person can identify the type of bump on their eyeball by its shape and color.
The most common types of bumps are:
These bumps are irregularly shaped and tend to be white or yellowish. They are caused by deposits of fat or protein and are usually located on the white part of the eyeball nearest the nose.
A combination of dry eyes and UV rays from the sun can cause a pinguecula to form. If a person is often exposed to excessive amounts of wind, dust, and sun, they may be more likely to develop these bumps. Surfers and others who frequently spend time in windy or sandy climates are especially vulnerable.
A pterygium may begin as a pinguecula or develop on its own. This type of bump is thicker and located on the cornea, the transparent outer layer of the eyeball. A pterygium is often triangle-shaped, and it may be yellow, pink, or red.
As the bump grows, it can make seeing difficult. A person with a pterygium may feel like something is stuck in their eye.
These growths are also caused by dryness of the eyes and UV light. These issues are frequently caused by prolonged exposure to wind, dust or sand, and sunlight.
Chalazia and styes
A swollen stye may appear to be growing on the eyeball.
Chalazia and styes are bumps formed by inflammation. They occur along the eyelid, but when they swell or are located under the eyelid, they can appear to be growing on the eyeball. These bumps may be red, pink, or the same color as the eyelid.
A stye, also called a hordeolum, is usually caused by an infection, but a chalazion is often caused by a blocked gland. Chalazia typically do not hurt, but styes can be very tender, and they can cause pain when opening the eye.
People with blepharitis, a condition involving eye irritation and inflammation, may be more vulnerable. Also, a person may be more likely to develop these bumps if they:
- frequently use cosmetics on the eyes
- have allergic reactions involving the eyes
- rub their eyes excessively
- wear contact lenses for too long
The following issues can also cause a lump to form on the eyeball:
Like other areas of the body, the eye can swell and become inflamed in response to an injury. A poke or blow to the eye can scratch the cornea, which may cause the eye to swell, and become red and irritated.
Lumps and bumps can trigger fears of cancer. Eye cancer is rare, and it is the least likely cause of a bump on the eyeball.
Cancer can develop in many parts of the eye. The most common form of eye cancer is intraocular melanoma, which first affects the eye's pigment cells. Compared to other skin cancers, intraocular melanoma is rare.
An early symptom may be the appearance of a dark brown or black spot in the iris, which is colored part of the eye.
Some people with eye cancer also develop a detached retina, which can damage the eye and inhibit sight.
The cause of eye cancer is unknown, but some genetic mutations may increase the risk. Also, people with fair skin and light eyes may be more vulnerable.
An optometrist may diagnose the cause of an eyeball bump due to its appearence.
An eye doctor — an ophthalmologist or optometrist — can often diagnose the cause of an eyeball bump based on its appearance alone. Pingueculae and pterygia are easy to diagnose, and scratched corneas usually have a clear cause, such as an injury. Chalazia and styes may look like pimples on the eyelid.
Diagnosing melanoma and other types of cancer is often more difficult. A doctor will begin with a visual examination and may order tests.
A doctor will often ask about:
- recent eye problems or injuries
- whether a person wears contacts
- time spent outside, particularly in dry conditions
- the use of cosmetics, eyelash extensions, and other products that can irritate the eyes
Not all lumps in the eye require treatment, and it is often possible to manage symptoms at home. Depending on the cause, treatments include:
Pingueculae and pterygia
Artificial tears or eye drops can help to reduce symptoms of both types of growth. It is also important to protect the eye from dust and other irritants.
If a growth causes pain or makes seeing difficult, a doctor may prescribe eye drops that contain steroids. If that does not work, surgery can remove the growth.
Wearing sunglasses, staying away from dusty areas, and keeping the eyes well lubricated can prevent these growths from coming back.
Chalazia and styes
Chalazia and styes often disappear on their own after a few days or weeks. Applying warm compresses several times a day can speed the healing process.
These growths may swell, open up, and drain, but it is important not to squeeze them. If an infected stye is painful or inhibiting vision, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics.
In rare cases of persistent chalazia, a doctor may recommend steroid injections. Or, a doctor may surgically remove them with an in-office procedure.
Treatment varies, depending on the stage of the cancer and its location. A doctor may recommend medication, radiation, chemotherapy, and surgery.
Using artificial tears and keeping the eye protected from the sun can help an injury to heal. A person with a scratched cornea should avoid wearing contacts or eye makeup and resist the urge to rub the eye when it feels itchy. In some cases, a doctor may prescribe antibiotics to prevent or treat an infection.
When to see a doctor
An eye doctor can easily diagnose the cause of most eye bumps. Treatment is typically simple, depending on the cause, but it is essential to seek prompt treatment, to prevent the problem from getting worse. This is especially true if a bump appears after an injury.
Proper eye care is key. The eye is vulnerable to injury, and serious injuries can affect sight. If a person has received treatment, they should ask the doctor about ways to prevent further problems.