Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

When to be concerned about a burst blood vessel in the eye

A subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when a tiny blood vessel breaks just beneath the clear surface of the eye, called the conjunctiva. This can cause a speck of redness on the white of the eye or a larger area of visible blood.

While a subconjunctival hemorrhage can look scary, it is usually harmless and will resolve on its own without treatment.

In this article, you'll learn about the causes and symptoms of a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It will also describe the treatment options and when it is time to see a healthcare provider.

Symptoms of a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

The sclera is the white part of your eye that is covered by a thin, clear tissue called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva also lines the inside of your eyelid and houses a network of tiny blood vessels, called capillaries.

Capillaries are fragile and can easily break. The burst vessel will then leak blood into the space between the conjunctiva and sclera.

The main symptom of a subconjunctival hemorrhage is a blood-red discoloration on the white of the eye. Over time, the redness will then turn a greenish or yellowish color, much like a bruise. The symptoms will usually disappear within two weeks.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually painless, although some people may experience a scratchy sensation in the eye.

If the leakage of blood is small, a subconjunctival hemorrhage may only cause a small area of redness or even a tiny red speck.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage affecting a portion of an eye

apomares / Getty Images

But, if the leakage is significant, the entire white of the eye may look red. In some cases, the affected tissues may bulge visibly outward.

Close-up of eye with subconjunctival hemorrhage

turk_stock_photographer / Getty Images

Causes of a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage can be caused by a mechanical injury to the eye, certain medical conditions, or sudden, forceful changes to eye blood pressure.

Causes of a bleeding eye

Verywell / Nusha Ashjaee

Some of the possible causes of a subconjunctival hemorrhage include:

A newborn baby can also have a subconjunctival hemorrhage. This is caused by pressure changes as the baby passes through the birth canal during childbirth.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage may also be a warning sign for a severe underlying condition like diabetes, leukemia, or sickle cell disease.

Diagnosis

A subconjunctival hemorrhage can be diagnosed with a visual examination of the eye. In addition to the eye exam, the optometrist or an ophthalmologist will take a complete medical history, including any drugs you may be taking. A blood pressure reading should also be taken.

Other tests may be ordered, if needed, including:

  • Slit-lamp exam: A routine, non-invasive procedure in which bright light is directed into the eye to check for injury or disease
  • Ocular tonometry; A non-invasive test used to measure the pressure inside your eyes
  • Blood tests; Including tests like factor VIII and partial thromboplastin time (PTT) that can help check for bleeding disorders

How Subconjunctival Hemorrhage Is Treated

A subconjunctival hemorrhage doesn't usually require treatment. Most will clear on their own within two weeks (although a warm compress to the eye may speed healing).

Any irritation or scratchiness can usually be relieved with over-the-counter artificial tears.

When to Call a Healthcare Provider

There may be times when a subconjunctival hemorrhage is a sign of something more serious. See a healthcare provider if you experience any of the following:

  • A subconjunctival hemorrhage lasting more than three weeks
  • A subconjunctival hemorrhage with eye pain
  • Vision loss, including blurring and light sensitivity
  • Recurring subconjunctival hemorrhages

Summary

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is bleeding in the white of the eye caused by a broken blood vessel. It is usually harmless, causing an area of blood-red discoloration that usually resolves on its own within two weeks.

Causes of subconjunctival hemorrhages include eye injury, severe high blood pressure, forceful sneezing or coughing, eye infections, certain medications, or bleeding disorders.

A Word From Verywell

Even though the appearance of blood in your eye can be disturbing, it's usually no cause for alarm, especially if you don't have any pain or vision changes.

However, if you experience a subconjunctival hemorrhage more than twice a year, you should get a full checkup to see if there are any medical condtion contributing to the recurrence.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the fastest way to get rid of a subconjunctival hemorrhage?

    A subconjunctival hemorrhage usually resolves on its own, but you can use warm compresses to help speed up the process.

  • How long do popped blood vessels last?

    Most subconjunctival hemorrhages will resolve within two weeks. See your healthcare provider if the condition persists for more than three weeks.

  • Can you go blind from popping a blood vessel?

    In most cases, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is harmless. However, if the bleeding is caused by an underlying condition like diabetes or high blood pressure, it can lead sometimes to vision loss if left untreated.

7 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Tarlan B, Kiratli H. Subconjunctival hemorrhage: risk factors and potential indicators. Clin Ophthalmol. 2013;7:1163-70. doi:10.2147/OPTH.S35062

  2. Cedars-Sinai Health Library. Subconjunctival hemorrhage.

  3. Nemours Children's Health. Subconjunctival hemorrhage.

  4. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Home remedies for bloodshot eyes.

  5. American Academy of Ophthalmology. How can I make a broken blood vessel in my eye heal faster?.

  6. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Is broken blood vessel in the eye harmless?.

  7. National Eye Institute. Diabetic retinopathy.

By Troy Bedinghaus, OD
Troy L. Bedinghaus, OD, board-certified optometric physician, owns Lakewood Family Eye Care in Florida. He is an active member of the American Optometric Association.