Eye bleeding typically means bleeding or a broken blood vessel below the outer surface of the eye. The entire white part of your eye may look red or bloodshot, or you may have spots or areas of red in the eye.

Another less common kind of eye bleeding, or hemorrhage, can happen in the middle, colored part of your eye. Eye bleeding deeper or at the back of the eye may sometimes cause redness.

Bleeding in the eye can happen for several reasons. Most of the time, you will not have blood leaking from your eye.

Depending on the location in the eye, bleeding can be harmless or it may lead to complications if left untreated. You should see a doctor if you think you may have eye bleeding.

facts about eye bleeding
  • Most eye bleeding is harmless and caused by a small broken blood vessel in the outer part of the eye.
  • The cause of eye bleeding isn’t always known.
  • Eye bleeding in the pupil and iris, known as hyphema, is rare but may be more serious.
  • Eye bleeding deeper in the eye usually can’t be seen and may be caused by an underlying health condition like diabetes.

There are three main types of eye bleeding.

1. Subconjunctival hemorrhage

The clear outer surface of your eye is called the conjunctiva. It covers the white part of your eye. The conjunctiva has tiny, delicate blood vessels that you normally can’t see.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage happens when a blood vessel leaks or breaks just under the conjunctiva. When this happens, blood gets trapped in the blood vessel or between the conjunctiva and white part or your eye.

Eye bleeding makes the blood vessel very visible or causes a red patch on your eye.

This kind of eye bleeding is common. It usually doesn’t cause pain or affect your vision.

You’ll likely not need treatment for a subconjunctival hemorrhage. It’s usually harmless and clears up in about a week.

Symptoms of Subconjunctival hemorrhage
  • redness on the white part of the eye
  • eye is irritated or feels scratched
  • feeling of fullness in the eye

2. Hyphema

A hyphema is bleeding on the iris and pupil, which are the round colored and black part of the eye.

It happens when blood collects between the iris and pupil and cornea. The cornea is the clear dome covering of the eye that resembles a built-in contact lens. A hyphema usually happens when there’s damage to or a tear in the iris or pupil.

This kind of eye bleeding is less common and can affect your vision. Hyphema can partly or completely block sight. If left untreated, this eye injury can cause permanent loss of vision.

The main difference between a hyphema and subconjunctival hemorrhage is that a hyphema is usually painful.

Symptoms of hyphema
  • eye pain
  • visible blood in front of the iris, pupil, or both
  • blood may not be noticeable if the hyphema is very small
  • blurry or blocked vision
  • cloudiness in eye
  • sensitivity to light

3. Deeper types of hemorrhage

Eye bleeding deeper inside or at the back of the eye is usually not visible at the surface. It can sometimes cause some eye redness. Damaged and broken blood vessels and other complications can cause bleeding inside the eyeball. Types of deeper eye bleeding include:

  • vitreous hemorrhage, in the liquid of the eye
  • subretinal hemorrhage, under the retina
  • submacular hemorrhage, under the macula, which is a part of the retina
Symptoms of deeper eye bleeding
  • blurred vision
  • seeing floaters
  • seeing flashes of light, known as photopsia
  • vision has a reddish tint
  • feeling of pressure or fullness in the eye
  • eye swelling

You might get a subconjunctival hemorrhage without noticing why. The cause isn’t always known.

Injury or strain

You can sometimes rupture a fragile blood vessel in the eye by:

  • coughing
  • sneezing
  • vomiting
  • straining
  • lifting something heavy
  • jerking your head suddenly
  • having high blood pressure
  • wearing contact lenses
  • experiencing an allergic reaction

A medical review found that babies and children with asthma and whooping cough had a high risk of subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Other causes include injuries to the eye, face, or head, such as:

  • rubbing your eye too hard
  • scratching your eye
  • trauma, injury, or a blow to your eye or near your eye

Hyphema causes

Hyphemas are less common than a subconjunctival hemorrhage. They’re usually caused by a blow or injury to the eye caused by an accident, fall, scratch, poke, or by being hit with an object or ball.

Other causes of hyphemas include:

  • eye infections, especially from herpes virus
  • abnormal blood vessels on the iris
  • blood clotting problems
  • complications after eye surgery
  • cancers of the eye

Medications

A study found that some prescription blood-thinning medications can raise your risk of some kinds of eye bleeding. These medications are used to treat and prevent blood clots and include:

Over-the-counter medications like nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and natural supplements can also thin blood. Let your doctor know if you are taking any of these:

  • aspirin
  • ibuprofen (Advil)
  • naproxen (Aleve)
  • vitamin E
  • evening primrose
  • garlic
  • ginkgo biloba
  • saw palmetto

Interferon therapy medication, which is used to treat some viral infections, is also linked to eye bleeding.

Health conditions

Some health conditions can raise your risk of eye bleeding or weaken or damage blood vessels in the eye. These include:

Infection

Some infections might make it look like your eye is bleeding. Pink eye or conjunctivitis is a very common and very contagious eye condition in children and adults.

It can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection. Babies can get pink eye if they have a blocked tear duct. Irritation of the eye from allergies and chemicals can also lead to this condition.

Pink eye makes the conjunctiva swollen and tender. The white of the eye looks pink because more blood is rushed to your eye to help fight the infection.

Pink eye doesn’t cause eye bleeding, but in some cases, it might make already fragile blood vessels break, triggering subconjunctival hemorrhage.

An optometrist or ophthalmologist can look at your eye to find out what kind of eye bleeding you have.

You might need other tests such as:

  • pupil dilation using eye drops to open up the pupil
  • ultrasound scan to see inside and the back of the eye
  • CT scan to look for injury around the eye
  • blood test to check for any underlying condition that might cause eye complications
  • blood pressure test

See your doctor if you have any type of eye bleeding or other eye symptoms. Never ignore changes to your eyes or vision. It’s always best to have your eyes checked. Even minor eye infections can get worse or cause complications if they’re not treated.

see your doctor

Make an eye appointment right away if you have symptoms in your eyes such as:

  • pain
  • tenderness
  • swelling or bulging
  • pressure or fullness
  • watering or discharge
  • redness
  • blurry or double vision
  • changes to your vision
  • seeing floaters or flashes of light
  • bruising or swelling around the eye

Treatment for eye bleeding depends on the cause. Subconjunctival hemorrhages are usually not serious and heal without treatment.

Medical treatment

If you have an underlying condition, such as high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe treatment to manage it.

Hyphemas and more serious eye bleeding may need direct treatment. Your doctor may prescribe eye drops as needed for eye bleeding:

  • supplementary tear drops for dry eyes
  • steroid eye drops for swelling
  • numbing eye drops for pain
  • antibiotic eye drops for bacterial infection
  • antiviral eye drops for viral infection
  • laser surgery to repair blood vessels
  • eye surgery to drain excess blood
  • tear duct surgery

You may need to wear a special shield or eye patch to protect your eye while the eye bleeding heals.

See your eye doctor to check the eye bleeding and your eye health. They’ll likely measure your eye pressure also. High eye pressure can lead to other eye conditions like glaucoma.

What you can do at home

If you wear contact lenses, take them out. Don’t wear contact lenses until your eye doctor says it’s safe to do so. There are several things you can do at home to help your eye bleeding:

  • take your eye drops or other medications exactly as prescribed by your doctor
  • check your blood pressure regularly with an at-home monitor
  • get plenty of rest
  • prop your head up on pillow to help your eye drain
  • avoid too much physical activity
  • get regular eye and vision check-ups
  • clean and replace contact lenses often
  • avoid sleeping with contact lenses on

Eye bleeding from subconjunctival hemorrhages usually goes away in 2 to 3 weeks. You may notice the eye bleeding turning red to brown and then yellow. This is common and can happen more than once.

Hyphemas and other deeper kinds of eye bleeding may need more treatment and take longer to heal. These eye conditions are less common. See your doctor if you notice any eye bleeding symptoms.

Treating and carefully monitoring an underlying condition like high blood pressure and diabetes can help prevent eye bleeding.