What Is the Red Spot in My Eye?

Checking the health of your eyes should be scheduled annually.. Lumina Images

Question: What Is the Red Spot in My Eye?

This morning I noticed a bright red spot on the white part of my eye. I don't remember scratching my eye, and it doesn't hurt at all. What is it?

Answer:

The red spot you see is most likely a small blood vessel that burst open during the night. In medical terms, it is called a subconjunctival hemorrhage. Small blood vessels lie underneath the conjunctiva, the clear coating that covers the sclera, the white part of the eye.

When one of the vessels breaks open, the blood has no place to go but underneath the conjunctiva. If a larger blood vessel bursts open and bleeds, it can be quite startling when you look into the mirror. In some cases, the blood can spread out over the entire white part of the eye. Most people become very nervous when this happens, but most often feel no pain, irritation or light sensitivity.

So what causes the bleeding?

A subconjunctival hemorrhage can occur if a person has too much pressure on the upper part of the body or head. This is called a valsalva maneuver. The valsalva maneuver is performed by forceful attempted exhalation against a closed airway. This is accomplished by closing one's mouth or pinching one's nose shut while pressing out as if blowing up a balloon. Pressure can be created by straining too hard while lifting something very heavy or coughing or sneezing. Straining during constipation can also cause enough pressure to burst a blood vessel in the eye.

Other causes are high blood pressure, diabetes, trauma or a high dosage of blood thinners, such as aspirin.

If you notice a red spot in your eye that lasts for longer than a few days, you should schedule an eye exam. A subconjunctival hemorrhage is similar to a bruise on your skin except that in your eye, the blood-red color is much more visible because it is under the clear, transparent conjunctiva and in front of your sclera, the white part of your eye.

Your eye doctor will try to determine the cause of the subconjunctival hemorrhage. A comprehensive eye exam is usually warranted to rule out other diseases or trauma to the eye tissues. Treatment consists of a medical evaluation and reassuring the patient that it will go away, usually within a week. If the hemorrhage is large, it may take a little longer than a week and turn a yellowish, bruise-type color before it goes away. Artificial tears or cold compresses are sometimes recommended to keep the eye feeling comfortable in case of any tissue elevation due to a larger hemorrhage.

Source:

American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), Management of Red Eye. 2004 p.77.

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