The medical term for broken blood vessels in the eye is subconjunctival hemorrhage. Although it often looks quite painful and severe, the truth is that it is typically harmless in most situations and will clear up on its own in a period of one to three weeks.
What Is a Subconjunctival Hemorrhage?
A subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when one of the very tiny and nearly unnoticeable blood vessels occur in the subconjunctival area, which is the space just beneath the clear surface of your eye. The term “hemorrhage” refers to the actual breakage of the vessels. Despite the way it looks, most people never even know they have broken blood vessels in the eye until someone points it out to them. They are not painful in any way, and there is usually no treatment required for them.
Most Common Causes of Broken Blood Vessels in the Eye
More often than not, subconjunctival hemorrhage is the result of increased pressure around the area. Some common causes of increased pressure in the eye area include:
- Weight lifting. When athletes lift weights or perform other strenuous activities, blood pressure increases significantly. This puts additional pressure on all of the blood vessels in the body, including those in the eye, which are particularly fragile.
- Physical pressure. Sometimes, athletes may experience broken blood vessels in the eye when performing exercises like barbell squats, especially when the bar presses against the backs of their necks or shoulders.
- Falls or trauma. Athletes may also notice broken blood vessels if they experience physical trauma, which includes direct force to the skin around they eye or significant falls.
- Sneezes, coughing, or straining during bowel movements. Although it is rare, some people may notice broken vessels after any of these actions.
What to Expect
In almost all cases, broken blood vessels cause little to no pain. Some people do experience mild discomfort that feels like irritation on the surface of the eye. Although there is generally no need for medical treatment, you can use lubricants for the eyes (artificial tears) to help soothe any discomfort you might feel. Although some physicians may recommend using a warm compress, there is no evidence that doing so will improve the appearance of the eye any quicker than allowing it to heal on its own. In almost all cases, the eye will heal in anywhere from one to three weeks.
When to See a Physician
Broken blood vessels in the eye may require medical attention if they are especially painful, if they do not heal on their own within 21 days, or if they seem to recur often despite your best attempts to minimize pressure around the area. You should also get the advice of your physician if subconjunctival hemorrhage is accompanied by any other unusual bleeding as this may be a sign of a serious medical condition.
For the most part, broken blood vessels in the eye are no cause for concern. Almost all athletes experience them at some point, particularly if they participate in weightlifting or very strenuous exercise. No treatment is necessary in the vast majority of cases.