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A subconjunctival hemorrhage, which is the medical term for a popped blood vessel in the eye, is common. It’s rarely serious and usually resolves on its own without medical attention. Most of the time, a sudden increase in blood pressure causes the blood vessel to burst and a splash of bright red blood on the eye’s sclera appears. However, there are times when a popped blood vessel in the eye is a symptom of something more serious.
A variety of issues or events can cause a popped blood vessel in the eye, including:
Identifying the cause of a popped blood vessel in your eye is important because it helps you determine if there is a serious problem. For example, if you’ve been sick with a head cold and sneezing, and you wake up with a red spot in your eye, chances are the two issues are linked. The popped blood vessel will resolve on its own as your cold improves. Sometimes eyes are bloodshot and there isn’t really a broken blood vessel.
However, if you don’t remember coughing or sneezing or doing anything else shortly before the popped blood vessel appeared, it’s a good idea to speak to an optometrist or eye doctor. It’s also essential to contact a healthcare professional if you’re experiencing vision changes or vision problems, in addition to redness in the white part of the eye. This helps you determine if an additional medical evaluation is needed immediately or if it’s safe to take a “wait and see” approach and let the issue heal on its own.
When a blood vessel pops in the eye, this causes blood to pool on the sclera. This is called subconjunctival hemorrhage and 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.
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Sometimes, depending on the cause. Taking precautions to protect your eyes is the best way to prevent problems, even if it’s not 100 percent guaranteed you’ll avoid a popped blood vessel. Some of the precautionary measures you should take include:
Most of the time popped blood vessels clear up on their own over time. If your eye is uncomfortable or the condition is painful, over-the-counter aspirin-free pain relief medications that are usually safe for you are an option. You can use over-the-counter eye moisturizing drops if your eyes feel dry.
If the popped blood vessel is caused by trauma or injury, your doctor might prescribe antibiotics drops or medication to reduce the risk of infection. Medication is also needed if the subconjunctival hemorrhage is due to infection.
To prevent a busted blood vessel in the eye, refrain from doing strenuous activities that involve heavy lifting and straining. Also, wear sunglasses or protective eyewear when needed. For existing popped eye blood vessels, OTC aspirin-free pain relief medications and moisturizing drops may help. Your doctor may also prescribe antibiotics when the condition is caused by trauma or an infection.
There are some circumstances in which a bleeding eye or popped blood vessel might be cause for concern and a reason to see an eye doctor. For example, if the cause of the bleeding is due to any type of injury or hyphema, you should see your doctor.
Hyphema involves blood pooling into the space between the cornea and iris, replacing the usual liquid occupying that space. The condition varies in severity but can be serious and cause blindness. Blunt force trauma to the eye, some blood clotting disorders, diabetes, using blood-thinning medications, and eye tumors all cause hyphema.
It’s also a good idea to speak to your doctor if you take blood thinners such as warfarin 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 caring for your overall health, especially if you have a medical condition. Recurrent subconjunctival hemorrhages could be a sign of a more serious medical problem.
Seeing blood in the eye is scary, but it does not usually cause a reason for alarm.
Most blood from a subconjunctival hemorrhage is reabsorbed into your body within a few days or a week after the initial eye injury. Larger burst blood vessels can take even 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, antibiotics drops or ointments are needed.
Indirectly. Stress won’t cause a blood vessel to burst, but things associated with stress – especially crying – are common causes of subconjunctival hemorrhage.
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. If the problem continues to worsen over days or it looks worse after several days of improvement, contact your doctor.
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.
JT, Shepherd, et al. “Effect of Cold on the Blood Vessel Wall.” General Pharmacology, 1983, pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/6131011/.
“What Can You Do for a Broken Blood Vessel in the Eye That Won’t Go Away?” American Academy of Ophthalmology, 1 Aug. 2018, www.aao.org/eye-health/ask-ophthalmologist-q/what-can-you-do-broken-blood-vessel-in-eye-that-wo.
“Eyes May Provide Window To Future Strokes.” ScienceDaily, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/10/051011073256.htm.