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Subconjunctival hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in eye)

Overview

A subconjunctival hemorrhage (sub-kun-JUNK-tih-vul HEM-uh-ruj) occurs when a tiny blood vessel breaks just underneath the clear surface of your eye (conjunctiva). The conjunctiva can't absorb blood very quickly, so the blood gets trapped. You may not even realize you have a subconjunctival hemorrhage until you look in the mirror and notice the white part of your eye is bright red.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage often occurs without any obvious harm to your eye. Even a strong sneeze or cough can cause a blood vessel to break in the eye. You don't need to treat it. Your symptoms may worry you. But a subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually a harmless condition that disappears within two weeks or so.

Symptoms

The most obvious sign of a subconjunctival hemorrhage is a bright red patch on the white (sclera) of your eye.

Despite its bloody appearance, a subconjunctival hemorrhage should cause no change in your vision, no discharge from your eye and no pain. Your only discomfort may be a scratchy feeling on the surface of your eye.

When to see a doctor

If you have recurrent subconjunctival hemorrhages or other bleeding, talk to your doctor.

Causes

The cause of a subconjunctival hemorrhage isn't always known. The following actions may cause a small blood vessel to rupture in your eye:

  • Violent coughing
  • Powerful sneezing
  • Straining
  • Vomiting

In some cases, a subconjunctival hemorrhage may result from an eye injury, including:

  • Roughly rubbing your eye
  • Trauma, such as a foreign object injuring your eye

Risk factors

Risk factors for a subconjunctival hemorrhage include:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Certain blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven) and aspirin
  • Blood-clotting disorders

Complications

Health complications from a subconjunctival hemorrhage are rare. If your condition is due to trauma, your doctor may evaluate your eye to ensure you don't have other eye complications or injury.

Diagnosis

Your doctor or eye doctor will generally diagnose a subconjunctival hemorrhage by looking at your eye. You'll likely need no other tests.

If you have recurrent subconjunctival hemorrhages, your doctor may also:

  • Ask you questions about your general health and symptoms
  • Conduct an eye examination
  • Take your blood pressure
  • Obtain a routine blood test to make sure you don't have a potentially serious bleeding disorder

Treatment

You may want to use eyedrops, such as artificial tears, to soothe any scratchy feeling you have in your eye. Beyond that, the blood in your eye will absorb within about one to two weeks, and you'll need no treatment.

Preparing for an appointment

You're likely to start by seeing your primary care doctor. In some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to an eye doctor (ophthalmologist).

Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.

What you can do

  • List any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • List key personal information, including any major stresses or recent life changes.
  • List all medications, vitamins and supplements that you're taking, including doses.
  • List questions to ask your doctor.

Preparing a list of questions may help you make the most of your time with your doctor. For a subconjunctival hemorrhage, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What might have caused this problem?
  • Will it happen again?
  • Do I need any tests?
  • Are there any treatments for this condition?
  • Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Do I need to be referred to a specialist?
  • Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can take home with me? Do you recommend that I visit a website related to this problem?

Don't hesitate to also ask questions that occur to you during your appointment.

What to expect from your doctor

Examples of questions your doctor may ask, include:

  • When did you first notice the problem?
  • Do you have any symptoms associated with this?

Prevention

If the bleeding in your eye has a clearly identifiable cause, such as a bleeding disorder or blood-thinning medication, ask your doctor if you can take any steps to reduce the risk of a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

If you need to rub your eyes, rub your eyes gently. Rubbing your eyes too hard can cause minor trauma to your eyes, which may lead to a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Last updated: October 26th, 2016

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