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Subconjunctival hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in eye)

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).

You may not realize you have a subconjunctival hemorrhage until you look in the mirror and find the white part of your eye is bright red.

The conjunctiva can't absorb the blood very quickly, so the blood is trapped under this transparent surface. A subconjunctival hemorrhage may worry you, but it's usually a harmless condition that disappears within one or two weeks.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage often occurs without any obvious harm to your eye, or it may be the result of a strong sneeze or cough that caused a blood vessel to break. You don't need any specific treatment for a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

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.

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

  • Violent coughing
  • Powerful sneezing
  • Heavy lifting
  • Vomiting

In some cases, subconjunctival hemorrhage may result from an eye injury, such as from:

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

Risk factors for subconjunctival hemorrhage include:

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

Although you may feel self-conscious about the appearance of your eye, 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.

There's no known way to prevent subconjunctival hemorrhage unless there is a clearly identifiable cause for the bleeding, such as might occur if you're taking blood-thinning medications or if you have a bleeding disorder.

If you need to rub your eyes, rub your eyes gently. Rubbing your eyes too hard can cause minor trauma to your eyes.

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