If your retina begins bleeding, it’s considered a retinal hemorrhage.
Your retina is the layer at the back of your eye that detects incoming light. Like all tissues in your body, your retina needs blood to supply it with vital nutrients and oxygen. It can also bleed.
Retinal hemorrhaging can rarely occur on its own, but usually it’s a symptom of a larger issue.
Let’s take a look at the different types, causes, and treatments for retinal bleeding.
There are several types of retinal hemorrhages, generally classified by where the bleeding is found within the many tiny layers of your retina. Some of the main types include:
- Vitreous hemorrhages: These hemorrhages happen in the vitreous part of your eye, or the gel-like substance between your lens and your retina.
- Pre-retinal hemorrhages: These hemorrhages happen between your retina and the vitreous.
- Retinal nerve fiber layer (intraretinal) hemorrhages: The retinal nerve fiber layer of your retina is inside your retina. These bleeds are sometimes called “dot” or “blot” hemorrhages.
- Subretinal hemorrhages: These are located under your retina, between your retina and the choroid (which helps supply the blood).
In most cases, a retinal hemorrhage isn’t a medical emergency. You’ll still want to make an appointment with a doctor or specialist to determine the cause of your retinal bleeding.
Retinal hemorrhage can be caused by many conditions or diseases, some of which will require further treatment. They can also be caused by injuries such as a blow to your head.
In the case of a traumatic injury, especially a head injury, it’s best to get medical care even if you don’t feel it’s an emergency.
Retinal hemorrhages often have very few symptoms, but more severe symptoms tend to be associated with more severe bleeds. You can have retinal hemorrhaging in either one or both of your eyes. Symptoms include:
A doctor will examine your eyes to look for signs of retinal hemorrhage, which could appear as small dots, flame-shaped splinters, or larger, rounded boat-shaped globules.
There are many potential causes of retinal bleeding, including both diseases and traumatic injuries. Some of the more common causes of retinal hemorrhage include:
Anyone can experience retinal bleeding, though it’s often seen in infants and in older adults.
If you have a condition that can cause retinal bleeding, your risk of having such a bleed is generally higher than someone who doesn’t have one of the following conditions.
In particular, you risk of retinal bleeding may be higher if you have:
Some retinal hemorrhages resolve on their own within a couple weeks to a month, particularly if they’re the result of trauma that doesn’t get reinjured.
Retinal hemorrhages caused by other health conditions can often be reversed if the underlying condition is properly treated.
But, retinal bleeding can sometimes lead to permanent vision impairment. It can also lead to additional health issues such as glaucoma.
The symptoms of retinal hemorrhage might be minor, and they might also resolve on their own.
If your symptoms are severe enough that they bother you, or if they continue to get worse, you should seek medical care.
Typical symptoms of retinal bleeding generally affect your vision.
If you’re experiencing pain or neurological symptoms such as weakness in any part of your body or difficulty speaking, you should get medical help right away. These are symptoms of a stroke and are a medical emergency. Call 911 or local emergency medical services or go to the nearest emergency room.
A doctor will begin by performing a physical examination of your eyes as well as taking your medical history. They’ll ask questions about your past and current vision, medication use, and injuries to your eyes and head.
They may also look right away for underlying conditions by checking your blood pressure and blood sugar.
You can expect optical imaging tests as well. These might include:
If your doctor determines that your retinal bleed isn’t at risk of permanently impairing your vision, they may recommend just observing and following up as your eye heals itself.
If your retinal bleeding was caused by another condition, you’ll need to treat that condition in order to control your retinal bleeding.
In severe cases, you may require eye surgery. You may also need to avoid certain medications such as aspirin or have a period of bed rest with your head elevated.
Is retinal bleeding curable?
Yes, most of the time retinal bleeding is curable, but it might return if the cause of the bleeding isn’t also treated.
The recovery time for your retinal bleed will depend on the cause.
Retinal bleeds caused by traumatic injury will generally heal within a couple weeks to a month, provided you don’t get reinjured.
Retinal bleeds caused by a separate medical condition often start to recover after the condition is back under control.
If you need surgery to repair your retinal bleed, recovery could take longer depending on the procedure used and the results.
If you have a condition that can cause retinal bleeding, effective treatment of the underlying condition might help to prevent retinal bleeding.
For example, if you know you have hypertension, you might help prevent retinal bleeding by:
- if you smoke, consider quitting
- limiting alcohol
- limiting sodium intake
- maintaining a healthy diet
- exercising regularly
- reducing stress
- maintaining a regular sleep schedule
Retinal hemorrhaging is bleeding in your retinas in your eyes. It can happen in one eye or in both.
Retinal bleeding doesn’t necessarily lead to permanent vision impairment, but it may. If you think you might have retinal bleeding, consult with a doctor about how to manage it.