What Is the Red Spot on My Eye?

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You're busy going about your day and a quick glance at your reflection makes you do a double-take: there's a red spot on your eye. It's normal to be concerned if you see one appear out of nowhere, and you'll likely wonder if you're bleeding and what could have caused it.

The whites of your eyes act as great backgrounds for red spots to show up. Because they are so easily spotted it is always best to alert your eye doctor to any new spots in your eyes, even if you think you know the cause.

A red spot on your eye could be harmless, but just to make sure, your doctor will rule out whether or not the spot signifies something more serious.

What Causes Red Spots on the Eye?

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. These hemorrhages can be caused by trauma, constipation, straining too hard, lifting something too heavy, or even diabetes or hypertension.

Other Causes of Bleeding in the Eye

While the red spot you see in your eye is probably harmless, there are a few conditions that your eye doctor will consider if you suddenly develop a red spot on your eye. 

  • Episcleritis: Episcleritis is an acute inflammatory disorder of the episclera, the thin tissue between the conjunctiva and the white sclera. The episclera houses a thin network of blood vessels. Episcleritis usually looks much worse than it actually is. Although most cases of episcleritis go away on their own, about one-third of cases are linked to hidden inflammatory problems present elsewhere in the body.
    • Sickle cell disease: Sickle cell anemia is an inherited blood disorder that is characterized by chronic anemia and intermittent pain. It is caused by abnormally shaped blood cells that have difficulty transporting hemoglobin and oxygen throughout the body. Sickle cell patients will sometimes display comma-shaped red spots or lines on the white part of their eyes. This is due to the sickling of red blood cells within small vessels, leading to tiny blockages.
    • Pinguecula: A pinguecula is a common growth or thickening of the tissue that lines the outside of the eye. It can appear elevated and yellow in color. You may be unaware that you have a pinguecula, but if you spend several hours in the sun and wind, it can become inflamed. When it is inflamed, it is referred to as pingueculitis. It can become red and swollen and suddenly appear on your eye. A pinguecula is thought to be caused by ultraviolet sun radiation or chronic irritation.
    • Conjunctival hemangioma: A conjunctival hemangioma is a congenital malformation of a clump of tortuous blood vessels that sometimes develops on the white part of the eye. A conjunctival hemangioma is usually benign, but some people become concerned about their cosmetic appearance. They should be examined annually and if the patient desires, they can be surgically removed.
      • Benign and Cancerous Growths: Keratoacanthoma, actinic granulomas and conjunctival epitheliomas are growths that can be serious. If you notice any new growths on the surface of your eye, see your eye doctor as soon as possible.

      A Word From Verywell

      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. In your eye, however, 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 reassurance that the spot 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;77.

      Mimura T, Usui T, Yamagami S, et al. Recent causes of subconjunctival hemorrhage. Ophthalmologica 2010; 224:133.

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