Red Spot on Eye

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Overview: Red Spot on Eye

The whites of your eyes can easily show any red spots that develop. While a red spot on your eyeball is often harmless, it is best for your doctor to rule out anything more serious, even if you think you know the cause.

Often, a red spot results from a subconjunctival hemorrhage, which is a broken blood vessel.

How Are Red Eye Spots Diagnosed?

Your doctor can diagnose a red spot on the eye by looking at it. 

If you have symptoms that suggest something more serious, you will likely require a comprehensive eye health exam. Your doctor should evaluate any underlying eye problems and other health issues, like diabetes or high blood pressure.

7 Potential Causes of Red Spot on Your Eye

A red spot on the eye is typically harmless. However, there are a few conditions that your eye doctor will consider if you develop a red mark on your eye:

1. Eye Injury

An eye injury can cause bleeding, which may result in a red spot on the eye. For example, you may get poked in the eye, or something may fly into it.

Even mild trauma can lead to broken capillaries and red spots. For example, if you rub your eyes slightly too hard.

To avoid eye injury, consider wearing protective eyewear at work or while playing sports if you are exposed to flying objects or debris.

2. Subconjunctival Hemorrhage (Broken Blood Vessel)

In most cases, a red spot on your eye is a small blood vessel that burst open. This is a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

subconjunctival hemorrhage

Tiny blood vessels are underneath the conjunctiva, which is the transparent coating that covers the sclera. The sclera is the white part of the eyeball.

When one of the tiny blood vessels breaks open, the blood moves underneath the conjunctiva. If a larger blood vessel breaks open and bleeds, it can be quite shocking when you look into the mirror. In some circumstances, the blood can spread across the whole white of the eye. While this can be nerve-wracking, most people do not feel any pain, irritation, or light sensitivity.

Subconjunctival hemorrhages are similar to a bruise on your skin. However, the bright red color is significantly more visible because it is under the clear and transparent conjunctiva in front of your sclera.

There are many causes of subconjunctival hemorrhages. These causes include trauma, constipation, straining too much, lifting something hefty, diabetes, or hypertension.

3. Diabetic Retinopathy

Diabetic retinopathy is not a typical cause of red spots in the eye. However, it is the most common cause of vision loss among people with various types of diabetes.

Diabetic Retinopathy

The condition results in retinal blood vessels leaking fluids or bleeding. Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy include floaters and blurry vision. Eye floaters are spots, lines, or rings that move through your field of vision. Since the retina is located in the back of the eye, you are not able to see these red spots yourself. The only way to find out if you have diabetic retinopathy is to see your eye doctor.

If you have diabetes, you should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam annually or as advised by your doctor.

4. Blood Pressure Spike

Anything that makes you strain can quickly and temporarily spike your blood pressure. Straining can potentially break a few capillaries in your eyes, leading to red spots.

Some examples of activities that may lead to straining include:

  • Coughing
  • Sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Bowel movement
  • Childbirth
  • Heavy lifting 

5. Contact Lens-Related Irritation

Even just a speck of dust trapped behind your contact lenses can result in irritation to the eye. If you respond by rubbing your eye, this can worsen the irritation and cause redness or broken blood vessels.

If you feel something in your eye, remove the contact lens, and clean it thoroughly. Do not wear contact lenses longer than your eye doctor suggests, and always replace them when necessary.

When you are outdoors, wear sunglasses to protect your eyes against wind, dirt, and debris. It would help if you also used suitable eye protection for sports and other activities that could cause something to fly into your eye.

6. Blood Disorders

Sickle cell disease is an inherited bleeding disorder. It is characterized by chronic anemia and intermittent pain. Sickle cell disease is caused by abnormally shaped blood cells with problems transferring hemoglobin and oxygen throughout the body.

Patients with sickle cell disease sometimes have dilated or abnormal blood vessels of the conjunctiva. This is because of the sickling of red blood cells within small vessels, leading to tiny blockages.

It is rare, but developing blood clotting disorders such as hemophilia or von Willebrand disease can also increase the risk of red spots on the eyes.

7. Certain Medications

Some medications and medicines thin the blood, which makes it easier to bleed. This can occur if you take aspirin frequently or if you take interferons.

Other blood thinners include:

  • Apixaban (Eliquis)
  • Dabigatran (Pradaxa)
  • Enoxaparin (Lovenox)
  • Heparin 
  • Rivaroxaban (Xarelto)
  • Warfarin (Coumadin, Jantoven)

How to Treat Red Spot on Eye

Here are ways to treat a red spot on the eye:

Home Remedies

Artificial tears, otherwise known as eye drops, or cold compresses, can help keep the eye feel comfortable. This is in case any tissue elevates because of a larger hemorrhage.

Professional Treatment

A red spot on your eye will typically clear up within a few days or weeks. Generally, treatment consists of a medical evaluation and reassurance that the red dot will go away. If the bleeding is significant, it may take slightly longer than a week and turn a yellowish, bruise-type shade before fading.

If you have diabetic retinopathy, vision loss resulting from the medical condition can be irreversible. However, treatment can lower the risk of blindness by 95 percent.

Treatment for diabetic retinopathy includes:

  • Injected or implanted corticosteroids
  • Anti-VEGF injections to prevent the protein that triggers the growth of abnormal, leaky blood vessels 
  • Laser treatment to lessen swelling and leakage of fluid
  • Eye surgery to repair a detached retina, remove scar tissue, or remove the vitreous (vitrectomy) 
  • Diabetes management
Resources
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Diabetic Retinopathy, National Eye Institute (NEI), August 2019, https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/diabetic-retinopathy 

Sahinoglu-Keskek, Nedime et al., Analysis of subconjunctival hemorrhage., Pakistan journal of medical sciences vol. 29,1 (2013): 132-4. Doi, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3809196/ 

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FRANCOIS, J et al., Intra-epithelial epithelioma of the conjunctiva and the cornea (Bowen's disease) healed by contact radiotherapy., The British journal of ophthalmology vol. 34,6 (1950): 360-4, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1323530/ 

Yaghoob, Reza et al., Actinic granuloma., Dermatology practical & conceptual vol. 4,3 31-2. 31 Jul. 2014, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4131994/ 

Cronau, Holly et al., Diagnosis and management of red eye in primary care., American family physician vol. 81,2 (2010): 137-44, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20082509/

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