A popped blood vessel in the eye is medically known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It happens when there’s a break in one of the tiny blood vessels beneath the clear surface of your eye (conjunctiva). This causes bright red patches to appear on the white of your eye (sclera).
Though they can be alarming, broken blood vessels in the eye are common and rarely serious.
Read on to learn about the common causes and risk factors of broken blood vessels and when to seek medical attention.
What Causes a Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye?
Broken blood vessels can be traumatic or spontaneous.
Traumatic broken blood vessels are caused by physical trauma or injury to the eye, such as:
- Roughly rubbing your eye
- Getting a foreign object stuck in your eye
- Undergoing eye surgery
There’s also been an increase in traumatic burst blood vessels as more people choose to wear contact lenses.1 These can result from surface deposits on the lens, rubbing the eye, or an accident while inserting or removing the lens. You can help prevent them by taking proper care of your contacts.
In most cases, broken blood vessels in the eye have no clear cause.1 Doctors call this spontaneous or idiopathic.
Common causes of a suddenly broken blood vessel in the eye include:
- Violent coughing
- Powerful sneezing
- Straining, such as heavy lifting
You may be at increased risk for broken blood vessels in the eyes if you have certain health conditions, such as:
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- A blood clotting disorder (bleeding disorder)
- Pinguecula (a noncancerous growth in the eye)
Taking blood thinning medications is also a risk factor for broken blood vessels.
Symptoms of a Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye
The primary sign of subconjunctival hemorrhage is a bright red spot on the white of your eye.
Having blood in your eye is alarming, but broken blood vessels are typically painless. You may not know you have one until someone points it out or you look in the mirror.
Sometimes you might experience mild irritation or a scratchy feeling in your eye. It won't affect vision or interfere with daily activities.
Popped Blood Vessel in Infants' Eyes
Newborns can 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.
Can You Prevent a Busted Blood Vessel in the Eye?
There are no ways to prevent broken blood vessels in your eye. However, there are a few precautionary measures you can try, such as:
- Wear protective eyewear during sports
- Avoid rubbing your eyes
- Keep your contact lenses clean
How to Treat a Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye
Most popped blood vessels clear up on their own and don’t require treatment from a healthcare professional. Your body will absorb the blood within one to two weeks.
If you experience discomfort or a scratchy sensation, eye drops (artificial tears) can help. Hot or cold compresses can also help soothe discomfort.
When to See a Doctor
Seek medical attention if the subconjunctival hemorrhage is caused by head trauma, eye injury, or a facial injury.
You should also call your doctor if the broken blood vessel occurs with other symptoms, such as:
- Eye swelling
- Vision loss
- Unexplained bleeding or bruising on other areas of your body
Recurrent subconjunctival hemorrhages could be a sign of a more serious underlying condition. If you haven't had your blood pressure checked recently, ask your doctor to do this.
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, such as rubbing your eyes while crying, are common causes of subconjunctival hemorrhage.
How long does it take for a broken blood vessel to clear up?
A subconjunctival hemorrhage will clear up on its own in one to two weeks. There's nothing you can do to speed up the healing process.
However, lubricating eye drops and hot or cold compresses can relieve discomfort.
Does a broken blood vessel in the eye get worse before it gets better?
Sometimes it will worsen before it begins healing, especially if you notice the issue immediately after it begins.
Contact your eye doctor if the problem continues to worsen after several days.
Hot or cold compress for a broken blood vessel in the eye?
Both hot and cold compresses can 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 daily for 10 to 15 minutes.
Subconjunctival hemorrhage is the medical term for a broken blood vessel in the eye. It occurs when a small blood vessel breaks beneath the conjunctiva, the clear membrane covering your eye.
It's usually a harmless condition, but you should see a doctor if a subconjunctival hemorrhage results from an eye injury, facial injury, or head trauma.
Certain health conditions increase your risk for broken blood vessels, including high blood pressure, diabetes, and taking prescription blood thinners.
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