Popped Blood Vessel in Eye

6 sources cited
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What Causes a Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye?

A popped blood vessel in the eye is medically known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It is a red spot on the white of your eye (sclera). It also might spread and cover the entire sclera. 

These are common and rarely serious. They usually resolve on their own without medical attention.

A popped blood vessel is caused by a sudden increase in blood pressure. This creates a splash of bright red blood in the sclera, the white outer layer of the eye.

A variety of things can cause this, including:

  • Strong sneezing or coughing
  • Severe vomiting
  • Muscle strain from heavy lifting
  • Trauma or injury
  • Small foreign objects
  • Contact lenses
  • Eye surgery complications
  • Eye infections
  • Medicinal side effects
  • Secondary complications from another medical problem

A popped blood vessel in the eye can indicate an underlying condition. Identifying its cause determines if this is so.

For instance, when you have colds you often sneeze. If you wake up with a red spot in your eye, chances are the two issues are linked. The popped blood vessel will resolve as your cold improves.

Sometimes eyes can be bloodshot. This doesn't always mean there's a broken blood vessel. Popped blood vessels also aren't indicative of eye disease.

Contact a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing vision changes or problems in addition to the popped blood vessel in your eye. This will determine if an additional medical evaluation is needed.

Summary

When a blood vessel pops in the eye, this causes blood to pool on the sclera. This is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It is usually caused by straining, trauma, a powerful sneeze or cough, or an infection. This typically resolves after a few days. If it persists, seek medical attention.

Symptoms of a Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye

Having blood in your eye is alarming, but a subconjunctival hemorrhage is typically painless. You may not even know you have a red spot on your eye until someone points it out or you look in the mirror.

Sometimes you might experience mild irritation, but it won't affect your vision or interfere with daily activities.

Popped Blood Vessel in Infants' Eyes

Newborns can also develop a subconjunctival hemorrhage during childbirth. This commonly occurs during a stressful birth when the pressure from labor contractions causes the baby's blood vessels to burst. While scary, it is not harmful and will heal without medical care. 

Other reasons for a newborn to have a subconjunctival hemorrhage include:

  • High birth weight
  • Extreme force used to pull the baby out of the birth canal
  • Use of forceps or vacuum extractor 
  • If the umbilical cord was around the neck

Although rare, subconjunctival hemorrhage in infants and children can also signify abuse-related nonaccidental trauma. Nonaccidental trauma should be considered if there is subconjunctival bleeding in both eyes, paired with facial petechiae (tiny spots of bleeding under the skin).

Can You Prevent a Busted Blood Vessel in the Eye?

There are no proven methods to prevent blood vessels in your eye from popping. However, there are a few precautionary measures you can try. These include:

  • Wearing protective eyewear during sports or while being in a dangerous environment
  • Wearing sunglasses
  • Avoiding violent sneezing and coughing if possible
  • Avoiding activities likely to make you vomit, like heavy drinking
Popped Blood Vessel in Eye

How to Get Rid of a Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye?

Most of the time, popped blood vessels clear up on their own over time.

Over-the-counter (OTC) aspirin-free pain relief medications can help if you feel discomfort or pain. You can use OTC eye moisturizing drops if your eyes feel dry.

If the popped blood vessel is caused by trauma or injury, your doctor might prescribe antibiotic drops or medication to reduce the risk of infection.

Medication is also needed if the subconjunctival hemorrhage is due to infection. 

Summary

To prevent a busted blood vessel in the eye, refrain from doing strenuous activities that involve heavy lifting. Also, wear sunglasses or protective eyewear when needed. OTC aspirin-free pain relief medications and moisturizing drops may help popped blood vessels. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics when the condition is caused by trauma or an infection.

When to Be Concerned About a Bleeding Eye

In some circumstances, a bleeding eye or popped blood vessel means you should see an eye doctor.

If the cause of the bleeding is due to any type of injury or trauma, you should see your doctor. Bleeding in the eye can indicate a hyphema.

This means blood is pooling into the space between the cornea and iris. It replaces the usual liquid occupying that space. The condition varies in severity but can be serious and cause blindness.

Some things that can cause a hyphema include:

Speak to your doctor if you take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder.

Seeing red on the surface of your eye probably isn’t a cause for concern. But good eye care is an important part of your overall health.

Recurrent subconjunctival hemorrhages could be a sign of a more serious medical problem.

How Do You Treat a Burst Blood Vessel in the Eye?

Seeing blood in the eye can be scary, but it's usually not a cause for alarm. 

The body reabsorbs most of the blood from a subconjunctival hemorrhage. This happens within a week after the initial eye injury. However, a larger leak can take longer to resolve.

If you experience pain or discomfort, OTC non-blood thinning pain relief medications are appropriate.

Some doctors also recommend using moisturizing eye drops or artificial tears. In some cases, antibiotic drops or ointments are needed. 

Read More: Conjunctiva

Common Questions and Answers

Can stress cause you to pop a blood vessel in your eye?

Stress can indirectly cause a popped blood vessel in your eye. Stress won’t cause a blood vessel to burst, but things associated with stress – especially crying – are common causes of subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Does a broken blood vessel in the eye get worse before it gets better?

Sometimes, or at least it will seem to worsen before it begins healing. This is the case if you notice the issue immediately after it begins. Contact your doctor if the problem continues to worsen over days or looks worse after several days of improvement.

Hot or cold compress for a broken blood vessel in the eye?

Both hot and cold compresses can be used to ease the discomfort of a burst blood vessel in the eye. Use a cold compress in the first 24 hours after you notice the problem. Then switch to warm compresses. Compresses can be used up to three times per day for about 10 to 15 minutes.

6 Cited Research Articles
  1. Eyes May Provide Window To Future Strokes.” ScienceDaily
  2. Huffman, JM. "What Is Hyphema?" American Academy of Ophthalmology, 3 May 2022
  3. JT, Shepherd, et al. “Effect of Cold on the Blood Vessel Wall.” General Pharmacology, 1983
  4. "Subconjunctival hemorrhage." American Optometric Association
  5. "Subconjunctival hemorrhage (broken blood vessel in eye)." Drugs.com, 21 Sept. 2021
  6. What Can You Do for a Broken Blood Vessel in the Eye That Won’t Go Away?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1 Aug. 2018
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