Whether from a traumatic event or due to the poor management of underlying diseases, subconjunctival hemorrhages require medical attention.
Medical Advisor, Álvaro Echeverri – Ophthalmologist
If any part of the body is bleeding, we are quick to react, as the main concern is too much blood loss; but when blood appears in the eye, the situation is different. Why? Perhaps because this organ provides us with one of the most important senses humans have: sight. While some subconjunctival hemorrhages are visible because the eye turns red, others may not be as visible and may only be identified from a medical assessment.
“These occur when blood leaves an artery or vein and becomes deposited in the surrounding tissues. A hemorrhage can happen in the eyelids, in the anterior segment of the eye (the conjunctiva), the inner eye or in the different layers of the retina,” explains ophthalmologist Álvaro Echeverri.
If you compare it to what happens to the skin, these types of hemorrhages are similar to a hematoma and generally appear as a red dot or several red patches on the white of the eye. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), this redness comes from a concentration of blood below the conjunctiva, which is a transparent membrane that covers the white of the eye and the inside of the eyelids. “These blood spots can look scary. But subconjunctival hemorrhage is almost always harmless and often heals on its own. Usually the only symptom of subconjunctival hemorrhage is a red spot in your eye. In fact, you may not know you have it until you look in the mirror,” the AAO states.
While most cases do not need to be treated, as the red patch disappears over time and by itself, the AAO warns that this process can take days or weeks, depending on the size of the red spot, “If your eye feels irritated, you may use artificial tears.” If the problem is recurrent, you should be evaluated by a doctor in order to identify causes and treatment.
Why do they happen?
They may be caused by anything from a trauma, such as getting hit or having surgery, to underlying diseases, such as high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, coagulation, diabetes or retinal detachment.
As experts explain, other common causes even include coughing, sneezing or making any effort that temporarily raises your blood pressure. It can even occur from rubbing your eyes too hard.
It is also important to understand that the excess use of blood-thinning medications can also cause them. Last, as the AAO points out, other less-common reasons for subconjunctival hemorrhages include blood clotting disorders or other systemic blood problems.
Dr. Echeverri suggests consulting with a doctor anytime there is a hemorrhage, as sometimes people can lose their vision if the blood is covering their visual area. “Some cases require the removal of the vitreous humor, getting the underlying disease under control, or getting surgery or laser treatments. To identify the right treatment, it is also crucial to determine when, exactly, the person first began to bleed, how they have progressed and to what point they can restore their vision.”
Leading a healthy diet and lifestyle are key aspects of managing and treating the underlying disease that can cause this type of bleeding, such as: high blood pressure, clotting problems, diabetes and even glaucoma. “Yet another reason to eat well and include physical activity in the lives of those who have these types of diagnoses, as they are more vulnerable to subconjunctival hemorrhages,” Echeverri emphasizes .
When should a doctor be seen?
- If the hemorrhage is small, treatment may not be necessary.
- One option is to use eye patches or gauze to keep the eye closed. Never place pressure on it.
- Avoid using pain relievers as they can exacerbate the bleeding.
- When lying down, keep the head elevated in order to aid the draining of the blood.
- If the hemorrhage reappears after a short period of time, if the pain intensifies, or if vision is completely lost, seek emergency medical care.