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Red Eye

Definition :
You go into the bathroom, look in the mirror — and you're stunned to find the white part of your eye is bright red. It looks frightening and painful, and yet it doesn't hurt, and your vision is unaffected. In fact, if you hadn't looked in the mirror, you probably wouldn't even have suspected a problem. What you're seeing is likely a subconjunctival hemorrhage, sometimes called red eye.

A subconjunctival hemorrhage occurs when a tiny blood vessel breaks just underneath the clear surface of your eye (conjunctiva). The conjunctiva can't absorb the blood quickly, so you're left with the equivalent of a bruise, except the blood is trapped under this transparent surface instead of the skin. This may create a rather frightening picture, but a subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually a harmless condition that disappears within 10 to 14 days.

Subconjunctival hemorrhage often occurs without any injury to the eye, or it may be the result of a strong sneeze or cough causing a broken blood vessel. No specific treatment is needed for a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

If you have recurrent subconjunctival hemorrhages or other bleeding, talk to your doctor. Be sure to tell your doctor about any medications or supplements you take.

The cause of subconjunctival hemorrhage is usually unknown. However, the following actions may be enough to cause a small blood vessel to rupture in your eye :
  • Violent coughing
  • Powerful sneezing
  • Heavy lifting
  • Vomiting

Risk Factors:
People with diabetes or high blood pressure (hypertension) tend to be most at risk. The condition is also common among newborns, who may be subjected to pressure changes during delivery.

Certain blood-thinning medications, such as warfarin and aspirin, can increase the risk of subconjunctival hemorrhage.

In addition, the following herbal supplements have been found to increase the potential for bleeding, primarily by inhibiting the actions of platelets, the type of blood cells involved in clotting :

  • Ginseng
  • Ginkgo
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • St. John's wort
  • Cayenne

When to seek medical advice :
If a bright red patch appears on your eye or on the eye of your child, contact your doctor to be sure that the problem is not more serious than a subconjunctival hemorrhage.

Symptoms :
The most obvious sign of a subconjunctival hemorrhage is a bright red patch on the white (sclera) of the eye. Despite its bloody appearance, a subconjunctival hemorrhage should cause no change in your vision and no discharge from your eye. Your only discomfort may be a scratchy feeling on the surface of your eye.

The best way for your doctor to diagnose subconjunctival hemorrhage is by looking at your eye. You'll likely need no other tests. However, your doctor may ask you some questions about your general health, take your blood pressure and give you a routine blood test to make sure you don't have a potentially serious bleeding disorder.

Complications :
While you may feel self-conscious about the appearance of your eye, health complications from a subconjunctival hemorrhage are rare.

You may want to use eyedrops or artificial tears to soothe any scratchy feeling you have in your eye. Beyond that, the blood in your eye will absorb within 10 to 14 days, and you'll need no further treatment.

There's no known way to prevent subconjunctival hemorrhage unless there is a clearly identifiable cause for the bleeding, such as might occur if you're taking more blood-thinning medications than you should be.

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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