What Causes a Red Spot on Your Eye?

Subconjunctival hemorrhage is the most common cause

A red spot on the eye is a relatively common finding that's not usually a cause for concern. In fact, a subconjunctival hemorrhage—the most common cause—typically doesn't require any treatment.

However, a red spot on the eye may be caused by a more serious condition, such as sickle cell disease or cancer. An eye health professional can diagnose the cause when a red spot doesn't clear up within a few days, and treat the cause or any underlying disorder.

This article will discuss some of the common causes of red spots on the eye and how they are treated. It also will help you to make an informed decision about when to see a healthcare provider.

causes of red spots on the eye
Verywell / Emily Roberts

The Most Common Cause of a Red Spot

A red spot on the eye is often a small blood vessel that burst open during the night. This is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

There are small blood vessels underneath the conjunctiva in your eye. This is the clear coating that covers the sclera, the white part of the eye. When one of the vessels breaks, the blood is visible under the conjunctiva.

If a larger blood vessel breaks, it can look quite startling. The blood might even spread out over the entire white part of the eye.

It can be unnerving to see a large red spot in your eye. Most of the time, though, there is no pain or irritation. Most people won't have light sensitivity, either. Light sensitivity is when bright light hurts your eyes.

The reasons for why blood vessels might pop in your eye can include physical stress but they're not associated with emotional stress. Among the causes are:

  • Trauma
  • Strain caused by constipation
  • Strain caused by sneezing, coughing, or vomiting
  • Lifting something heavy
  • Diabetes, a disease that affects blood sugar
  • Hypertension, or high blood pressure

This condition doesn't usually require treatment. The spot typically goes away on its own, usually within a week. If the hemorrhage is large, it may take a little longer. As it heals it may look similar to a yellowish bruise.

If the spot is large, your healthcare provider may recommend artificial tears or cold compresses. This can help you feel comfortable if there is swelling.

Even if you think your red spot is a subconjunctival hemorrhage, it is always best to see your healthcare provider. Sometimes red spots in the eye can have more serious causes.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is similar to a bruise on your skin. In your eye, however, the blood-red color is easier to see. This is because it is under the clear, transparent conjunctiva and in front of the white part of your eye.

Other Causes of Red Spots in the Eye

There are a few other conditions that your eye professional will want to consider.

Episcleritis

Episcleritis is an inflammatory disorder of the episclera, the thin tissue between the clear conjunctiva and the white sclera. Inflammatory disorders cause part of your body, in this case the episclera, to become red and inflamed. Episcleritis is acute, which means it comes on suddenly.

Episcleritis usually looks much worse than it is. Most cases of episcleritis go away on their own. About one-third of cases, though, are linked to inflammatory conditions that affect other parts of the body.

Pinguecula

A pinguecula is a common growth or thickening of the tissue that lines the outside of the eye. It can appear raised and yellow in color. It is thought to be caused by exposure to the sun's ultraviolet rays or long-term irritation.

You may be unaware that you have a pinguecula. You may notice it when it becomes inflamed. This can happen if you spend a lot of time in the sun and wind.

When a pinguecula is inflamed, it is called pingueculitis. It can become red and swollen and suddenly appear on your eye.

Most of the time, a pinguecula does not need to be treated. You can have it removed surgically, though, if it causes uncomfortable symptoms. Some people also have them removed for cosmetic reasons.

Conjunctival Hemangioma

A conjunctival hemangioma is a clump of twisted blood vessels that develops on the white of the eye. This condition is almost always congenital, which means you are born with it. It usually appears a few weeks after birth. Most of the time, it will disappear as a child grows.

In rare cases, conjunctival hemangiomas can appear in adults over the age of 60. Though they are usually harmless, some people prefer to have them surgically removed. If they are not removed, they should be examined once a year.

Most red spots in the eye go away on their own. Some harmless growths like pinguecula and conjunctival hemangiomas can be removed surgically. This is usually done for cosmetic reasons.

Sickle Cell Disease

Sickle cell disease is an inherited blood disorder. People with sickle cell disease have chronic, long-lasting anemia, or a decrease in healthy red blood cells. The condition also causes severe bouts of pain.

Sickle cell disease is caused by abnormally shaped hemoglobin molecules. Hemoglobin is the protein in red blood cells that carries oxygen to your tissues. The abnormal hemoglobin can cause the cells to rupture, forming a sickle shape.

Sickle cell patients will sometimes have comma-shaped red spots or lines on the white part of their eyes. This is because the sickle-shaped blood cells may cause blockages in small blood vessels.

Benign and Cancerous Growths

Some growths on the eye can be serious, including:

  • Keratoacanthoma, a type of skin cancer that can form on the eye
  • Actinic granuloma, a rare skin disorder
  • Conjunctival epitheliomas, abnormal growths that form in the tissue that covers the eye

If you notice any new growths on the surface of your eye, see your eye doctor as soon as possible.

When to See Your Healthcare Provider

Do not ignore a new red spot in your eye. If it lasts for longer than a few days, see your eye care professional. A comprehensive eye exam will help your provider rule out serious conditions.

Summary

A red spot in the eye is usually harmless. In most cases, it is caused by a burst blood vessel. These types of spots will usually go away without any treatment.

A red spot in the eye may have other causes, some of which are serious. Always see a healthcare provider if you have a new red spot in your eye that lasts longer than a few days.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Can red spots on the eye be due to COVID-19?

    Yes, it's possible. COVID-19 infection can lead to serious eye conditions including bleeding from blood vessels in the eye. Those with an underlying condition, like diabetes or high blood pressure, are at greater risk. Pink eye (conjunctivitis) remains a common COVID symptom, especially in kids.

  • What causes a red spot on your eye after Lasik surgery?

    Red spots after Lasik surgery are likely due to subconjunctival hemorrhage. Other eye procedures, such as laser treatment for cataracts, also can result in red spots on the eye for the same reason.

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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.
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Additional Reading

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.