Why Does Your Eye Look Like It's Bleeding?

Posted on: 19 January 2021

If you've ever woken up to a large red spot in the white of your eye, you know it can be a scary moment. If you haven't yet had that experience, here's a bit of advice: Don't panic. A broken blood vessel in the eye is a common occurrence and most likely not a cause for worry. But not always. Here's what you need to know, what to watch out for, and when to call your optometrist.

Why Is Your Eye Red?

Although it looks bad, that red spot on your eye is usually harmless. It is caused by a burst blood vessel in the conjunctiva or white part of your eye. The technical name for the bleeding is subconjunctival hemorrhage, and it can cause your entire conjunctiva to look red or just a tiny spot, depending on the amount of blood that has escaped. Fortunately, the bleeding doesn't affect your vision. It's also not usually painful unless it was caused by an injury to the entire eye. There are many causes of subconjunctival hemorrhage, but often the cause is difficult to discern. Common causes include:

  • Injury to the eye
  • Vigorously rubbing your eye
  • Strong coughing or sneezing
  • Surgery
  • Viral infection
  • Contact lenses
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Clotting disorders

When Should You Be Concerned?

Although typically a subconjunctival hemorrhage is harmless, there are a few exceptions for which you should see your eye care professional. If the redness does not disappear in 2 to 3 weeks, or if there is pain, a feeling of pressure, or vision changes, you should make an eye appointment. Also, if you have more than two or three eye bleeding episodes in a year, there may be an underlying condition such as high blood pressure or diabetes so it's wise to consult with your healthcare professional.

If the bleeding occurs in your iris or pupil, it could be a more serious eye condition known as a hyphema. A hyphema occurs when blood collects between the iris and the cornea, the clear covering over the eye. The main differences between subconjunctival hemorrhage and a hyphema is pain and vision loss. If you suspect a hyphema, it's important to see your eye doctor as if left untreated, a hyphema can cause permanent vision loss.

How Is Subconjunctival Hemorrhage Treated?

There is very little you can do for subconjunctival hemorrhage other than wait for the eye to reabsorb the blood. The red will likely turn to orange, then pink before it completely goes away. While it is healing, avoid aspirin or other blood thinners and try to avoid heavy lifting, roughhousing, or forceful rubbing of your eye.