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Subconjunctival hemorrhage

Definition

Subconjunctival hemorrhage is a bright red patch appearing in the white of the eye. This condition is also called red eye.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

A subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when a small blood vessel breaks open and bleeds near the surface of the white of the eye (bulbar conjunctiva). It may happen without injury, and is often first noticed when you wake up and look in a mirror.

Sudden increases in pressure such as violent sneezing or coughing can cause a subconjunctival hemorrhage. The hemorrhage may also occur in persons with high blood pressure or who take blood thinners.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage is common in newborn infants. In this case, the condition is thought to be caused by the pressure changes across the infant's body during childbirth.

Symptoms

A bright red patch appears on the white of the eye. The patch does not cause pain and there is no discharge from the eye. Vision does not change.

Signs and tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and look at your eyes.

Blood pressure should be tested. If you have other areas of bleeding or bruising, more specific tests may be needed.

Treatment

No treatment is needed. You should have your blood pressure regularly checked.

Expectations (prognosis)

A subconjunctival hemorrhage usually goes away on its own in about 1 week.

Complications

There are usually no complications.

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if a bright red patch appears on the white of the eye.

Prevention

There is no known prevention.

References

Knoop KJ, Dennis WR, Hedges JR. Ophthalmologic procedures. In: Roberts JR, Hedges JR, eds. Clinical Procedures in Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Saunders Elsevier; 2009:chap 63.


Review Date: 5/1/2011
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, University of Washington, School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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