Burst Blood Vessel in the Eye: How Serious is it?

A burst blood vessel in the eye, otherwise known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage, is when a tiny blood vessel just underneath the clear surface of your eye breaks.  The blood gets trapped because it can’t be absorbed quickly.  Sometimes you will not even know that this has happened until you look in a mirror and see that the white part of your eye is bright red.

A strong sneeze or cough could cause a blood vessel to break in the eye and though it may worry you, it is not something that requires treatment.  A burst blood vessel in the eyes is usually harmless and clears up on its own within a couple of weeks.


If you notice a bright red patch on the white of your eye it is an obvious sign of a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

This condition should not cause a change in your vision.  There should not be any discharge and there should be no pain associated with it.  You may experience a scratchy feeling on the surface of your eye which may be a little uncomfortable. If the condition is recurrent or does not seem to clear up on its own, talk to your doctor about the issue.


Sometimes the cause of a subconjunctival hemorrhage is not known.  The following may cause it to happen:

  • A powerful cough
  • A large sneeze
  • Straining
  • Vomiting

It could also be caused from an eye injury, such as:

  • Rubbing the eye too vigorously
  • Trauma, such as a foreign object in your eye

Risk Factors

Some pre-existing conditions may be risk factors with subconjunctival hemorrhage:

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Some blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin and aspirin
  • Blood clotting disorders

There are not often any complications from a burst blood vessel in the eye.  If it occurred due to trauma you will want your doctor to evaluate your eye to ensure there is not further injury.


A doctor will usually be able to diagnose a subconjunctival hemorrhage just by looking at your eye.  It is not likely that any tests will need to be done.  However, if it is a reoccurring occurrence you doctor may also:

  • Ask about any other symptoms and your general health
  • Conduct an eye exam
  • Take your blood pressure
  • Perform a blood test to make sure you do not have a bleeding disorder

Though it will eventually disappear on its own, you may want to treat it with eye drops to help alleviate the discomfort of the scratchy feeling.

Preparing for an Appointment

You will probably see your primary care doctor but he may refer you to an eye doctor. To prepare, make a list of any symptoms that you are experiencing, even if it does not seem related.  Jot down personal information that may be relevant.  Include and major life changes or stresses you are experiencing. Make notes of any medication, vitamins, and supplements that you are taking. Also be prepared with a list of questions for your doctor if you have any.  If you write them down, you will not forget to ask them.


If the cause is identifiable and it is something you can avoid, ask your doctor what you can do to reduce the risk.  If you have a bleeding disorder or take blood-thinning medications, he may be able to offer some advice.

If it has been caused by rubbing your eyes you can try to reduce the risk by rubbing your eyes gently if you need to rub them.  If you are too rough you can cause minor trauma to the eye resulting in a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

For further information, or if you are experiencing the condition and wish to book a consultation, you can contact Advanced Eye Medical in the Orange County area