The conjunctiva is the thin, transparent mucous membrane that covers the white part of the eye. It protects and lubricates the eyeball and also allows the eye to move easily. The conjunctiva contains many small, fragile blood vessels. Rupture of one of these small vessels or capillaries results in a subconjunctival hemorrhage. This appears as a bright red spot on the white of the eye, and may even cover the entire white of the eye.
Most of the time no symptoms accompany subconjunctival hemorrhages. Some patients, however, complain of a mild sharp pain when the hemorrhage begins. Many people become alarmed by the sudden onset of this common problem, even though it is not associated with any diseases that cause visual loss. The hemorrhage usually fades gradually over 2-3 weeks.
The most common cause of a subconjunctival hemorrhage is simple rubbing of the eyes. Raising the pressure inside the conjunctival veins by lifting heavy objects, sneezing or coughing can also cause a hemorrhage. Only rarely is the condition associated with bleeding problems. Some patients on blood thinners (anticoagulant medications) such as Coumadin or Aspirin may have an increased risk of subconjunctival hemorrhage, but these patients should NOT stop their medication simply because of a subconjunctival hemorrhage.
No treatment is ever necessary for subconjunctival hemorrhages. If there is any eye pain or loss of vision in the affected eye, a doctor should be contacted. If other areas of the body have abnormal bleeding, then a thorough medical examination and blood tests are necessary to check for bleeding disorders.