Everything to Know About Eye Bleeding

Medically Reviewed By Ryan Corte, OD
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A bleeding eye can result in a red tinge from blood spots or a pool of blood inside the front portion of your eye. This can happen as a result of injury to the eye, but it may also be a sign of an underlying condition. There are different types of bleeding in the eye, such as hyphema and a subconjunctival hemorrhage. In some cases, the blood may reabsorb into the eye and heal on its own. However, you may require treatment for a severe injury or if the eye continues to bleed.

Read on to find out more about bleeding eyes. This article looks at the symptoms and causes of a bleeding eye, treatment options, when to contact a doctor, and more.

What are the symptoms of a bleeding eye?

There is a closeup of a person holding a basketball.
Aliaksandra Ivanova/EyeEm/Getty Images

The main symptom of a bleeding eye is the presence of blood in the eye. A small amount of blood may appear in the white part of the eye. Depending on the cause, this may begin to spread.

You may also feel like you have something in your eye.

Other symptoms that can occur alongside a bleeding eye include:

It is important to inform your doctor of any symptoms you are experiencing, as this can help them to determine the cause of the bleeding eye.

Learn about common eye symptoms.

What causes a bleeding eye?

Eye bleeding may happen as a result of injury to the eye, such as blunt trauma or penetration of something sharp into the eye. It can also happen as a result of an underlying condition.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage

A subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when tiny blood vessels in the eye’s conjunctiva break. They will appear as red spots on the white of your eye. In most cases, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is not serious and it can heal on its own.

Possible causes of a subconjunctival hemorrhage include

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • straining
  • trauma to the eye
  • vigorous rubbing of the eye
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure

A subconjunctival hemorrhage can also occur as a result of medications that make you bleed more easily. This includes aspirin and blood thinners.

In rare cases, you may develop a subconjunctival hemorrhage as a result of a blood clotting disorder.

Hyphema

Hyphema refers to blood that accumulates in the anterior chamber of the eye. This is the area at the front of the eye between the iris and the cornea.

The most common cause of hyphema is blunt eye trauma, according to a 2022 article. Around 70% of traumatic hyphemas occur in children. It most commonly occurs in males between the ages of 10–20 years, usually as a result of a sporting injury.

Possible causes of hyphema include:

  • injury from a baseball, softball, basketball, or soccer ball
  • paintball injury
  • airbag deployment
  • assault

Certain conditions increase your risk of hyphema. These include:

Some anticoagulant medications may also increase your risk of hyphema.

There are other possible causes of bleeding in the eye, such as the Valsalva maneuver (a breathing technique). It is important to contact your doctor to determine the cause of eye bleeding.

What are the treatments for a bleeding eye?

Treatment for a bleeding eye will depend on the cause of the bleeding.

If you experience a subconjunctival hemorrhage, it may resolve on its own. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few weeks.

However, it is important to contact your doctor if you have a subconjunctival hemorrhage as a result of trauma, as you will need to rule out other complications.

Treatments for hyphema can include:

  • elevating the head of your bed by at least 30º
  • wearing an eye shield
  • topical analgesics for pain relief
  • intravenous ondansetron to control nausea
  • cycloplegics to stabilize the blood-aqueous barrier
  • topical steroids

Your doctor may recommend surgery if there is a risk of optic atrophy or corneal blood staining. Your doctor will advise if this is something they recommend.

When should I see a doctor?

It is important to contact your doctor if any of the following apply:

  • trauma to the eye
  • severe eye bleeding
  • frequent eye bleeding
  • eye bleeding that worsens or does not go away

Your doctor will be able to carry out an exam to determine the cause of eye bleeding.

Find out more about when you should see an eye doctor.

How do doctors diagnose the cause of a bleeding eye?

To assist with reaching an accurate diagnosis, your doctor may carry out a physical exam and take a full medical history. They may also ask you questions about your symptoms, such as:

  • Is your eye painful?
  • When did you first notice blood in your eye?
  • What were you doing at the time the bleeding first occurred?
  • Did anything happen that could have caused blood in your eye?
  • Did the bleeding occur suddenly or slowly?
  • Do you notice that your vision is affected?
  • Do you have any other symptoms?
  • Are you taking any medications?

Your doctor may also order an imaging test such as a CT scan. This will allow them to take a closer look at your eye.

If you have experienced trauma to the eye, your doctor may order other tests to determine the extent of the injury. They will be able to explain the tests in more detail and answer any questions you may have.

What are the risk factors for a bleeding eye?

A bleed in the eye commonly occurs as a result of blunt trauma, such as from a sporting injury. Wearing protective headgear during sports, in particular ball sports, can help to reduce your risk of trauma.

Certain conditions and medications may also increase your risk of hyphema or a subconjunctival hemorrhage. Contact your doctor if you have any concerns.

What are the complications of a bleeding eye?

Depending on the cause of eye bleeding, complications can vary from almost none to permanent loss of vision. Even scarring of the eye can alter your vision, so it is important to have your eye bleeding examined promptly.

Possible complications can include:

Seeking treatment for a bleed in the eye and following your treatment plan can help reduce your risk of complications.

Frequently asked questions

Here are some more frequently asked questions about eye bleeding.

Can you go blind if your eye is bleeding?

Some types of eye bleeding, such as subconjunctival hemorrhage, usually resolve itself without any lasting damage. However, severe hyphema or other complications that occur as a result of trauma to the eye can result in blindness. It is important to contact your doctor as soon as you have concerns about bleeding in the eye.

Why did I wake up with a broken blood vessel in my eye?

If you wake up with a broken blood vessel in your eye, this could be a result of coughing or sneezing through the night. However, as bleeding can also occur due to an underlying condition, it is important to seek medical advice for a diagnosis and advice on treatments.

What is the most common cause of subconjunctival hemorrhage?

The most common causes of subconjunctival hemorrhage include coughing, sneezing, and straining. However, it can also happen as a result of trauma, high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain medications.

Summary

Bleeding in the eye occurs when there is damage to the blood vessels. This can happen as a result of a cough or sneeze, trauma to the eye, or an underlying condition.

In some cases, a bleeding eye may resolve itself within a few days or weeks. However, your doctor may prescribe medication and advise on steps you can take to encourage healing.

It is important to contact your doctor if you experience eye bleeding. They will be able to carry out an exam to reach an accurate diagnosis and advise on treatments.

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Medical Reviewer: Ryan Corte, OD
Last Review Date: 2022 Nov 9
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.