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Subconjunctival Hemorrhage

Reviewed by: Daniel J. Lattin, MD
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What Is a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage?

A subconjunctival hemorrhage (sub-con-JUNK-tih-vul HEM-er-ij) is a red spot on the white of the eye. It can look scary, but it’s usually harmless, doesn’t hurt, and won’t affect vision.

Most subconjunctival hemorrhages go away without treatment in a few days or weeks.

What Causes a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage?

The white of the eye (the sclera) is covered by the conjunctiva (kon-junk-TYE-vuh), clear tissue that has many tiny blood vessels. The blood vessels can break and leak blood when the eye is injured or someone has a quick spike in blood pressure. The blood collects between the conjunctiva and the sclera (SKLAIR-uh), leaving a bright red spot on the eye’s surface.

This can happen when someone:

  • sneezes
  • coughs
  • throws up
  • strains (for instance, when going to the bathroom)
  • has high blood pressure
  • takes blood-thinning medicine
  • rubs the eye too hard
  • wears contact lenses
  • has had an eye injury

Subconjunctival hemorrhages can happen in a newborn too. They’re probably caused by pressure changes in the baby’s body during childbirth.

What Are the Signs & Symptoms of a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage?

The telltale bright red spot on the white of the eye is the only sign of a subconjunctival hemorrhage. The spot might:

  • get bigger in the first 24–48 hours
  • fade from red to yellow

It goes away as the body reabsorbs the leaked blood, and most are gone in 1–3 weeks.

How Is a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage Diagnosed?

Because a subconjunctival hemorrhage doesn’t hurt, many people don’t know they have one until somebody else mentions it or they look in a mirror. Doctors can tell if someone has one by looking at the eye and the spot.

How Is a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage Treated?

A subconjunctival hemorrhage doesn’t cause pain or harm to the eye. They go away on their own and don’t need medical care.

But call your doctor if your child:

  • has what looks like a subconjunctival hemorrhage along with eye pain
  • gets subconjunctival hemorrhages often

Reviewed by: Daniel J. Lattin, MD
Date reviewed: September 2021