Broken or Popped Blood Vessel in Eye: Causes & Healing

It can be startling to see the white part of your eye turning red, but that’s actually the harmless condition of your eyes known as broken or popped blood vessel in eye or subconjunctival hemorrhage. There has been a rupture of small blood vessels just beneath the surface of your eye.

Popped, Burst, or Broken Blood Vessel in Eye

This condition of blood pool in the white of your eye is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage and it can look scary, but in most cases, it won’t have any lasting effect and the tiny busted blood vessels will get healed within a few days.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is an eye condition where tiny, fragile blood vessels break underneath the clear covering tissue or conjunctiva which covers the white part of the eye called the sclera. The blood gets trapped under the conjunctival membranes, giving one’s eye a blood-tinted appearance.

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Popped Blood Vessel in Eye Vs Pink Eye (Conjunctivitis)

Some people assume that they have pink eye or conjunctivitis by just looking at the popped blood vessels.

While a burst blood vessel or subconjunctival hemorrhage shares some superficial resemblances to pink eye, they have very different causes and treatments.

You could typically tell the difference between pink eye and a broken blood vessel by the presence or absence of other symptoms, but it is much easier to test for the condition with a quick eye examination.

A burst blood vessel will usually not cause any other symptoms than just the occasional floater or feeling of mild eye sensitivity.

if you have conjunctivitis, your eyes will show some other unpleasant symptoms such as watery eyes, grittiness, white or yellow discharge, dryness, and burning sensation, with or without blurry vision.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms in conjunction with the red spot in your eye, it may indicate that you’re suffering from conjunctivitis or pink eye.

Symptoms of Popped Blood Vessels in Eye

As mentioned earlier, the most obvious and prominent sign of broken blood vessels in the eye or subconjunctival hemorrhage is a brightly colored red area on the white part of your eye or sclera.

If a subconjunctival hemorrhage doesn’t bring any change in your vision and doesn’t generate any pain or discharge, you should be able to continue doing what you’re doing just fine. You may only experience some irritation or discomfort from the blood collected underneath the surface of your eye.

What Causes Broken Blood Vessel in Eye?

If you are certain that the patchy red appearance of the white part of the eye is not due to the pink eye but rather due to popped blood vessels in the eye, you’re now probably wondering what caused this issue to occur.

A sudden rise in blood pressure is what usually causes the artery to burst. All this action results in a splash of bright red-colored blood on the white part (sclera) of the eye.

However, there may be other reasons for burst blood vessels appearing in the eye. The potential causes of popped blood vessels in the eye can be categorized as traumatic and spontaneous on the basis of the nature of the causative factors.

Traumatic Causes

The word “traumatic” usually refers to physical injuries or damage, for instance with the eye. It could involve a rupture in a small blood vessel that came from some physical trauma, things rubbing against the eyes like sand or foreign objects going into them.

Contact lens is one of the major causes of traumatic broken blood vessels in the eye. As contact lenses became more popular, so have cases of traumatic subconjunctival hemorrhages.

When the problem of the red bloodshot eyes is due to applying or removing the lens, there are several possible causes. These include dirt and dust on the lens surface, friction between the lens and the eye surface, or a scratched lens surface.

The materials in disposable contact lenses start breaking down and shedding particles over time, which can make the lens surface rough. Wearing them for too long than recommended by the manufacturers also increases the chances of developing subconjunctival hemorrhages.

Ocular surgeries, including cataracts and refractive surgery, can also increase the risks of getting popped blood vessels in the eye.

It is estimated that around 1-2% of the babies born vaginally may have broken blood vessels in their eyes.

Conditions such as dry eye, allergies, and blepharitis can lead to the rubbing of your eyes. This can cause discomfort and redness on the eyes, which leads to ruptured blood vessels in the white part of the eye.

Spontaneous or Idiopathic Causes

In cases where an exact cause is not found for subconjunctival hemorrhage, experts use the term “idiopathic”. Annually, around 50% of all cases of popped blood vessels in the eye are idiopathic or “spontaneous” – they happen for no definite reason.

In sudden high blood pressure situations, there is an increase in blood flow to the head and eyes. This can happen when coughing or vomiting, for example. It is also possible through strenuous exercises, like lifting heavyweights.

Other health conditions can be responsible for the occurrence of a bloodshot eye. This includes hypertension, or high blood pressure, regardless if a person is taking medication to manage the condition or not.

Diabetes and high blood lipid levels can also lead to a problem of burst blood vessels in the eye.

Some prescription medications, including non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and anticoagulants like warfarin or heparin, can also contribute to broken blood vessels in the eye.

Identifying the cause of the just-popped blood vessel in your eye can tell you if there is a more serious underlying problem.

For example, if you wake up with a red blood pool in your eye and also happen to have had a cold and sneezing before that, they are often related. The broken blood vessel in the eye will usually go away after you’ve recovered from the cold.

It’s common for people to have bloodshot eyes and not have a broken blood vessel. Usually, if there is tiny bleeding in the eye, it doesn’t indicate anything dangerous.

If you can’t remember coughing or sneezing shortly before you noticed the blood vessel had popped, you should speak to an eye doctor.

It’s important to consult with an eye care professional if you’re experiencing vision changes or sight issues in addition to redness in the white part of the eye. This will help determine whether or not an additional medical evaluation is needed right away.

Is it possible to Prevent Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye?

In order to prevent issues such as burst blood vessels in the eye or subconjunctival hemorrhage, there are precautionary measures you can take. Protecting your eyes is usually the best way to prevent problems.

If a bleeding disorder or blood-thinning medication are causing your eyes to bleed, it’s best to ask your doctor if anything can be done about it.

You should only rub your eyes gently if they are irritated. More frequent and hard rubbing can be risky as it may affect the eye blood vessels and lead to minor eye wounds, or subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Some of the other important precautionary measures you need to take to prevent popped blood vessels in the eye include:

  • Always protect your eyes with the help of protective eyewear while involving in sports activities to prevent eye injuries.
  • Use sunglasses outdoor that can protect your eyes from harmful radiations and injuries due to dust, dirt and other harmful particles.
  • Take help from others to lift heavy weights and to do other strenuous activities as such activities increase pressure to the micro blood vessels in the eyes.
  • If you are suffering from constipation talk to your doctor to treat the condition because constipation is one of the main causes of popped blood vessel in eye.
  • Stay away from any activities and things that can lead you to sneeze, cough, or vomit, such as heavy drinking, environment with harmful allergens.

Healing Popped Blood Vessel in Eye

A subconjunctival hemorrhage will usually heal on its own in 1-2 weeks as the body reabsorbs the blood, depending on how large the hemorrhage is.

Anticoagulating agents delay the absorption of blood in the eye. So, if you are taking anticoagulation medicines it will take around 20 days to completely heal the popped blood vessels in the eye.

How to Heal Broken Blood Vessel in Eye Fast?

Becoming aware of blood in the eye can be a scary experience, but it’s not usually anything to worry about.

Most subconjunctival hemorrhages are reabsorbed by the body within 2-3 weeks after the initial eye injury. Over time, larger burst blood vessels may take a little longer to subside.

If you experience any pain or discomfort, you should use non-blood thinning OTC (over-the-counter) pain relief medications.

Doctors also recommend using moisturizing eye drops or artificial tears. Antibiotic drops or ointments are only needed in some cases, however.

Hot or Cold Compress for Broken Blood Vessel in Eye?

After a brief period of time, the bright red blood spot will disappear from the white part of the eye. To prevent any further discomfort from soreness or swelling, apply cold compresses for about a day or two.

After a couple of days, apply a warm compress several times a day to speed up the healing process. A clean cloth washed in cold or warm water that is applied to the affected eye help out but for best results, it is recommended to use hot water bottles.

When to be Concerned about a Burst or Busted Blood Vessel in Eye?

There are some instances in which it’s appropriate to see an eye care professional if you’re experiencing bleeding from your eye. For example, if the cause of the broken blood vessel in the eye is due to any kind of injury or hyphema, you should seek medical attention.

Hyphema is a condition in which a space between your cornea and iris is filled with blood instead of regular eye liquid or aqueous humor. It varies in severity but can be very serious and cause blindness.

A number of conditions can lead to bleeding in the anterior part of the eye or hyphema. These include eye trauma, a blood clotting disorder, diabetes, and certain medications that lower blood clotting. An eye tumor may also cause hyphema.

You should speak to your doctor about possible side effects if you take blood thinners or have a bleeding disorder.

Seeing red on your eye probably isn’t a reason to panic but good eye care is an important part of your eye health.

Recurrent subconjunctival hemorrhages can be a sign of a more serious medical problem, monitor the situation and seek treatment if necessary.

When to See a Doctor?

It’s time to call a doctor when you have more than just slight irritation. Symptoms such as discharge, swelling, sudden changes in vision, and/or sharp pain should be assessed by your eye doctor.

On average, a popped blood vessel in the eye heals in about 2 weeks. If it’s still not healed after 14 days, it might be good to have it checked out by the doctor.

Takeaway

A doctor may diagnose a burst blood vessel in the eye as subconjunctival hemorrhage. Usually, this is a harmless condition that resolves itself in 1-2 weeks. The only symptom is often a patch of blood beneath the conjunctiva (the transparent membrane that covers the sclera.)

A ruptured or broken blood vessel in the eye has been known to have no identifiable cause. It may be spontaneous or because of trauma. This includes wearing eye contact lenses, as well as physical damage like a sudden blow to the eye.

Although an eye burst blood vessel is not serious, it may be a symptom of another illness. This is why it’s important to visit the doctor if you experience the symptom.

If you are experiencing recurring subconjunctival hemorrhage or it is not resolving, better to seek medical help.

Sources

  • Birth-related subconjunctival and retinal hemorrhages in the Newborn Eye Screening Test (NEST) Cohort by Marco H. Ji, et. al, Eye, 2019. 
  • https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/eye-injuries/
  • https://www.floridaeyespecialists.com/blog/2019/02/did-you-know-your-eyes-have-high-blood-pressure-clues

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