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Subconjunctival Hemorrhage (Broken Blood Vessel in the Eye): Causes & Treatment

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is when a blood vessel bursts in the eye, leaking blood into your white sclera, which can make it appear red. While this can look alarming, it is usually not very serious and will heal on its own. 

It is still important to see an eye health professional as more serious health conditions or eye injuries may be the root cause.

Symptoms of Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is characterized by broken blood vessels in the eye. This can give the white of your eye an alarming bright red appearance. 

Despite the severe look, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually completely painless. It doesn’t usually affect your visual acuity. 

On its own, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually harmless and will heal on its own. However, you should see an eye doctor if you experience this burst blood vessel, so they can identify the cause and make sure you don’t have any more serious underlying conditions.

As a hemorrhage heals, you may experience minor irritation and swelling. This is usually very manageable at home. 

subconjunctival hemorrhage

Causes of a Broken Blood Vessel in the Eye

Subconjunctival hemorrhages can be split into two broad groups: traumatic and spontaneous

Traumatic hemorrhages are the result of trauma, which can include minor traumas, such as rubbing the eye, and serious traumas, like an object piercing the eye. Even some newborns can develop this type of hemorrhage as a result of forces exerted on the body during vaginal delivery. 

In many cases, a patient may not even recall a minor trauma incident that caused their hemorrhage. Meanwhile, a major traumatic incident may have far more pressing concerns beyond a subconjunctival hemorrhage if the eye was seriously damaged.

Spontaneous hemorrhages occur without an immediately obvious cause, with blood vessels instead bursting as the result of some combination of risk factors, such as hypertension and similar vascular disorders. This eye’s elastic and connective tissues wear over time, with older people being more at risk of this type of hemorrhage. 

Risk Factors

The most common cause of a subconjunctival hemorrhage is trauma. 

While sex doesn’t seem to have a direct impact on this condition, it is more common among young men for largely cultural reasons. They tend to engage in more physical work and other strenuous activities that increase their risk of eye trauma. However, it is those physical activities increasing their risk of trauma that in turn increases their risk of developing a hemorrhage. 

Meanwhile, women have a higher probability of developing certain comorbid conditions that can lead to spontaneous hemorrhage, such as high blood pressure, which causes that group to experience those types of hemorrhages at an increased rate.

Other risk factors for subconjunctival hemorrhage include the following:

  • Diabetes
  • Blood thinners, including medications like aspirin
  • High blood pressure
  • Aging

If a patient has no other identifiable risk factors, subconjunctival hemorrhages recur at a rate of about 10 percent

Diagnosis

While it’s easy for a doctor to see if you’ve burst a blood vessel in your eye, part of the diagnostic process will also involve identifying the cause of your hemorrhage to make sure nothing more serious may also be affecting your health.

One of the first things a doctor will do is try and identify what, if any, ocular trauma may have occurred to cause it. Then they will check for any eye health conditions that may have contributed, including checking your blood pressure. 

Patients who have repeated hemorrhages will usually be taken more seriously, as that is unusual without a deeper health condition impacting their eye health. 

Treatments & Home Remedies

The eye naturally reabsorbs blood after a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It will return to its normal appearance within about two weeks. For patients on certain medications, this recovery period may increase slightly to as long as three weeks. 

If you experience discomfort during your recovery, you can use ice packs to reduce your swelling. You can also talk to your doctors about using artificial tears, which can help reduce any irritation you experience.

Prevention of a Broken Blood Vessel in the Eye

While many of the risk factors that can lead to subconjunctival hemorrhages are outside a person’s control, some good general health habits can reduce your risk of experiencing one. 

  • Protective eyewear: Always wear protective glasses when engaging in activities that may expose your eyes to risk. For example, wear protective goggles during sports and activities where debris could fly into the eyes.
  • Rubbing: Avoid rubbing your eyes. This habit can potentially cause more harm than many realize, not only through potential physical trauma but also through introducing microbes that may upset the somewhat delicate equilibrium of the eye.
  • Blood pressure: Aim to keep your blood pressure at normal levels. This is a good habit for both your eye health and your overall cardiovascular health. Regular exercise combined with a good diet can help you control your blood pressure while offering many other additional health benefits.
  • Medical care: Most importantly, take a subconjunctival hemorrhage seriously. While it isn’t an emergency, always get checked by a doctor in a timely manner just to make sure the hemorrhage doesn’t signal more serious health issues.

Subconjunctival Hemorrhage FAQs

When should I be concerned about a subconjunctival hemorrhage?

Usually, the cause of a broken blood vessel in the eye is fairly mundane. Even coughing or sneezing can cause a temporary rise in blood pressure that bursts a blood vessel in the eye.

As long as you get it checked by an eye professional in a timely manner, you don’t usually need to worry about subconjunctival hemorrhages. The major concern is that a hemorrhage may have been caused by an underlying health condition or serious eye trauma, which your doctor can check for. 

What is the fastest way to get rid of a subconjunctival hemorrhage?

Most medical experts recommend against using any special treatment for subconjunctival hemorrhages. The best approach is to let the hemorrhage heal on its own, with the blood usually getting reabsorbed within two weeks. 

In the meantime, you can use artificial tears if you experience irritation and an ice pack for any swelling. Don’t use any home remedies not approved by an eye care professional.

Is a broken blood vessel in the eye an emergency?

No, it is usually harmless. While it can look alarming, it is usually benign and will heal on its own within a couple of weeks.

What are the common causes of a broken blood vessel in the eye?

Common causes of subconjunctival hemorrhage include trauma to the eye, hypertension, diabetes, and excessive rubbing of the eye.

References

  1.  

    Subconjunctival Hemorrhage. (August 2021). StatPearls.

  2. What Is a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage? (May 2021). American Academy of Ophthalmology. 

  3. Subconjunctival Hemorrhage: Risk Factors and Potential Indicators. (June 2013). Clinical Ophthalmology.

  4. Incidence of Non-Traumatic Subconjunctival Hemorrhage in a Nationwide Study in Taiwan from 2000 to 2011. (July 2015). PLOS ONE

  5. Newborn Retinal Hemorrhages: A Systematic Review. (June 2013). Journal of American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

  6. Association Between Subconjunctival Hemorrhage and Acute Coronary Syndrome: A 14-Year Nationwide Population-Based Cohort Study. (October 2021). Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine.

  7. Spontaneous Subconjunctival Haemorrhage–A Sign of Hypertension? (May 1992). British Journal of Ophthalmology

  8. Idiopathic Recurrent Subconjunctival Hemorrhage. (August 2012). Canadian Journal of Ophthalmology

Last Updated June 14, 2022

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