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Bleeding Eye

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

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Updated April 17, 2014

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

If you have ever experienced a subconjunctival hemorrhage, you know that the condition appears as a patch of bright, red blood on the white part of your eye. While it can be alarming to awaken to what appears to be a bleeding eye, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually harmless, with the visible blood resulting from a simple broken blood vessel.

The white part of your eye, known as the sclera, is covered by a thin, clear tissue called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva also lines the inside of your eyelid, housing a meshwork of small, thin blood vessels. These small blood vessels are fairly fragile and can easily burst or break. When they break, blood leaks out and settles between the conjunctiva and the sclera. If the leak is small, a part of your eye may just seem a little red. However, if the leak is large enough, the entire white part of your eye may appear completely blood red and in some cases can actually bulge outward.

Symptoms of Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage often appears as a bright red pool of blood in your eye. The condition usually causes no pain or vision changes, but occasionally causes minor itching of the eye. A scratchy sensation may sometimes be felt upon blinking.

Causes of Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage, or eye bleed, can be caused by the following:
  • Trauma
  • Hard coughing
  • Hard sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Heavy lifting
  • Forceful hand rubbing of the eye
  • Constipation
  • Various eye infections
Occasionally, a subconjunctival hemorrhage can be a warning sign for diabetes, hypertension, bleeding or blood disorders leukemia and sickle cell disease. It is important to have your optometrist or ophthalmologist examine the hemorrhage to identify a cause and rule out other possible health disorders.

Treatment of Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

Visible blood in your eye due to subconjunctival hemorrhage will be slowly reabsorbed by your body. Most resolve within about seven days without treatment. A large subconjunctival hemorrhage, however, can take up to two to three weeks to go away. The redness may turn to an orange color, then pink and then white again. Your eye will not be stained by the blood. Artificial tears may be applied to decrease any feelings of scratchiness.

What You Should Know About Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

If you are concerned about bleeding in your eye, schedule an eye examination. Your optometrist will complete a careful medical history to rule out potential causes of the hemorrhage. Your eyes will be examined to ensure that the eye is intact and no other injuries may have occurred to other structures of the eye. Your eye pressure will be measured and your eyes may be dilated so the doctor can look inside to make sure there is no trauma or bleeding deep inside the eye.

Even though the appearance of blood in your eye can be disturbing, it is usual no cause for alarm, especially if there is no pain or visual changes. Many people arrive at their doctor's office with a subconjunctival hemorrhage without recollection of trauma, circumstance or systemic medical problem. In many cases, the broken blood vessels are caused by a blow to the eye with a hand in the middle of the night during sleep. However, experiencing a subconjunctival hemorrhage more than twice in one year may be cause for concern. It is then suggested that you have your general medical doctor perform a complete physical.

Source:

Source: Catania, Louis J. Primary Care of the Anterior Segment, Second Edition. Appleton and Lange, 1995.

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