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.

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.

Oct. 26, 2016
References
  1. Riordan-Eva P, et al. Conjunctiva & Tears. In: Vaughan & Asbury's General Ophthalmology. 18th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed June 6, 2016.
  2. Jacobs DS. Evaluation of the red eye. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 6, 2016.
  3. Longo DL, et al., eds. Disorders of the eye. In: Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 19th ed. New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill Education; 2015. http://accessmedicine.com. Accessed June 6, 2016.
  4. Gardiner MF. Conjunctival injury. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 6, 2016.
  5. Subconjunctival hemorrhage causes. American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.aao.org/eye-health/diseases/subconjunctival-hemorrhage-cause. Accessed June 6, 2016.
  6. Stone CK, et al., eds. Eye emergencies. In: Current Diagnosis & Treatment Emergency Medicine. 7th ed. New York, N.Y.: The McGraw-Hill Companies; 2011. http://www.accessmedicine.com. Accessed June 6, 2016.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in eye)