Posted by: Focal Point Vision in Blog

James D. Lehmann, M.D. | 10/24/2023

If you recently woke up with a bright red spot in your eye, you’re probably feeling a little nervous. You’re probably anxiously typing a lot of different questions in your favorite search engine, including some variation of:

  • What is it?
  • Why is it there?
  • Is it dangerous?
  • Should I call the doctor?

If you’re worried about what a burst blood vessel in eye means for you, keep reading. Everything you need to know about causes and treatment options is explained below.

What is a Burst Blood Vessel?

A burst blood vessel in the eye is also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It may look and sound like a serious health issue, but that’s not always the case.

The blood vessels in the eye are very small and easily breakable. When they do break, blood gets trapped under the conjunctival membranes. This creates the bright red spot that startled you when you looked in the mirror this morning.

This red spot is the most common symptom of a burst blood vessel. Over time, it may take on a green or yellowish color, like a bruise.

Some people notice floaters, which are small shapes that look like little dots or squiggly lines in front of your eye. You may also notice a little bit of sensitivity or irritation.

Burst Blood Vessel Vs. Pink Eye

When they see their eye turning red, some people might panic and assume that they’re suffering from pink eye.

While the results of a pink eye infection (also known as conjunctivitis) may appear similar to a subconjunctival hemorrhage, they are two very different conditions.

You’ll usually be able to tell the difference between pink eye and a burst blood vessel by the presence or absence of other symptoms.

With the exception of floaters and mild sensitivity, there usually are no other symptoms that accompany a burst blood vessel. If you have pink eye, though, you’ll notice several other unpleasant symptoms, including the following:

  • Irritation and itchiness
  • A yellow, white, or green discharge
  • Dryness
  • Wateriness

If these symptoms accompany the red spot in your eye, you may actually be suffering from pink eye.

What Causes a Burst Blood Vessel in Eye?

If you’ve ruled out pinkeye and are fairly certain you’re dealing with a burst blood vessel, you’re now probably wondering what caused this issue to occur.

There are a number of potential causes of a burst blood vessel, including the following actions:

  • A violent cough
  • A powerful sneeze
  • Straining while lifting a heavy object
  • Vomiting

A subconjunctival hemorrhage can also result from an eye injury. If you’ve been roughly rubbing your eyes, or if a foreign object hit your eye at some point, that may be the cause of your burst blood vessel.

Are Some People More Prone to Burst Blood Vessels?

Some people also suffer from medical conditions that increase their chances of experiencing a burst blood vessel. If you have one of the following conditions, your risk of bursting a blood vessel increases:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Blood-clotting disorders

People who are on blood-thinning medications like warfarin and aspirin are also more prone to burst blood vessels.

How Can You Treat a Burst Blood Vessel?

Generally speaking, there’s not a lot that you can do to treat a burst blood vessel. Most of the time, the best thing to do is to just wait and let it heal while avoiding further irritating the area.

The broken blood vessel will usually naturally heal itself within one or two weeks. The blood will be reabsorbed and the appearance of your eye will return to normal.

While it heals, you can use artificial tears or lubricating eye drops to help get rid of any irritation.

It’s also important to avoid rubbing or touching your eye. This can cause more irritation, increase your risk of infection, and potentially break more blood vessels. None of these situations is ideal when you’re trying to recover from a burst blood vessel.

When Do You Need to See a Doctor about a Burst Blood Vessel?

You usually don’t need an eye doctor’s help when you’re dealing with a burst blood vessel. But, if it lingers for more than two weeks, it could be a symptom of a more pressing issue that your doctor should take a look at.

You should also contact your doctor if you notice new symptoms like eye discharge, swelling, or sharp pain. These symptoms are often indicative of an infection like pink eye.

If your burst blood vessel lingers and is accompanied by changes in vision, pain, or strong light sensitivity, it could be an early sign of glaucoma.

Can You Prevent Burst Blood Vessels?

Since a burst blood vessel can be brought on by something as simple as a sneeze, they’re not always preventable. But, at the same time, there are a few things you can do to keep them at bay:

  • Avoid rubbing your eyes, and, when necessary, rub them as gently as possible
  • If you have something in your eye, use artificial tears to flush it out rather than using your fingers
  • Manage conditions like diabetes and hypertension as carefully as possible to prevent burst blood vessels as a side effect

If you’re taking a medication that increases your risk of burst blood vessels, you can also talk to your doctor about additional steps to prevent them.

It’s also important to schedule regular eye exams. When you meet with an eye doctor regularly, you can avoid or catch early more serious conditions like glaucoma that could lead to a burst blood vessel.

Do You Need to See a Doctor?

Hopefully, you can now rest easy after having your questions about a burst blood vessel answered.

But, if you still have questions, or if your burst blood vessel in eye has lingered for a few weeks, you can and should schedule an appointment with a vision specialist.

If you live in or around the San Antonio area, contact us at Focal Point Vision today for answers to all your questions.