When to Be Concerned About a Bleeding Eye

Subconjunctival hemorrhage

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A subconjunctival hemorrhage is another term for bleeding of the eye. Bleeding inside the eye can result in a tiny speck of redness or a large area of red blood. The hemorrhage appears as a patch of bright, red blood on the white part of your eye.

While it can be frightening to awaken to what appears to be a bleeding eye, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually harmless, with the visible blood resulting from a simple broken blood vessel.

Bleeding Eye Symptoms

The white part of your eye, known as the sclera, is covered by a thin, clear tissue called the conjunctiva. The conjunctiva also lines the inside of your eyelid, housing a meshwork of small, thin blood vessels. These small blood vessels are fairly fragile and can easily burst or break. When they break, blood leaks out and settles between the conjunctiva and the sclera.

If the leak is small, a part of your eye may just seem a little red. However, if the leak is large enough, the entire white part of your eye may appear completely blood red and in some cases can actually bulge outward. You may have a subconjunctival hemorrhage if you notice a bright red pool of blood inside your eye.

The condition usually causes no pain or vision changes, but occasionally causes minor itching of the eye. A scratchy sensation may sometimes be felt upon blinking.


Causes of a bleeding eye
Illustration by Nusha Ashjaee, Verywell

Bleeding of the eye is usually caused by suffering an injury to the eye. Less common but serious causes of eye bleeds include cancer, malformations of blood vessels in the eye, and irritation and inflammation of the iris (the colored part of the eye).

Small subconjunctival hemorrhages can result from forcefully sneezing or coughing. High blood pressure and taking certain medications that alter blood clotting mechanisms are other risk factors for subconjunctival hemorrhages.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage, or eye bleed, can be caused by the following:

  • Trauma
  • Hard coughing
  • Hard sneezing
  • Vomiting
  • Heavy lifting
  • Forceful hand rubbing of the eye
  • Constipation
  • Various eye infections

Occasionally, a subconjunctival hemorrhage can be a warning sign for diabetes, hypertension, bleeding or blood disorders, leukemia, and sickle cell disease.

Get a complete physical if you have a subconjunctival hemorrhage more than twice in one year so you can ensure you don't have an underlying medical condition.


If you are concerned about bleeding in your eye, schedule an eye examination. Your optometrist will complete a careful medical history to rule out potential causes of the hemorrhage.

Your eyes will be examined to ensure that the eye is intact and no other injuries have occurred to other structures of the eye. Your eye pressure will be measured and your eyes may be dilated so the doctor can look inside to make sure there is no trauma or bleeding deep inside the eye.

It is important to have your optometrist or ophthalmologist examine the hemorrhage to identify a cause and rule out other possible health disorders.


Try to remain calm if you suddenly notice blood inside your eye. Visible blood in your eye due to subconjunctival hemorrhage will be slowly reabsorbed by your body. Most cases resolve within about seven days without treatment.

A large subconjunctival hemorrhage, however, can take up to two to three weeks to go away. The redness may turn to an orange color, then pink and then white again. Your eye will not be stained by the blood. Artificial tears may be applied to decrease any feelings of scratchiness.

A Word From Verywell

Even though the appearance of blood in your eye can be disturbing, it is usually no cause for alarm, especially if there is no pain or visual changes. Many people arrive at their doctor's office with a subconjunctival hemorrhage without recollection of trauma, circumstance or systemic medical problem. In many cases, the broken blood vessels are caused by a blow to the eye with a hand in the middle of the night during sleep. However, experiencing a subconjunctival hemorrhage more than twice in one year may be cause for concern and you should get a full medical checkup.

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  1. Tarlan B, Kiratli H. Subconjunctival hemorrhage: risk factors and potential indicators. Clin Ophthalmol. 2013;7:1163-70. doi:10.2147/OPTH.S35062

Additional Reading
  • Catania, Louis J. Primary Care of the Anterior Segment, Second Edition. Appleton and Lange, 1995.