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What Causes a Popped Blood Vessel in the Eye?

By Christina Edwards
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

A popped blood vessel in the eye, known scientifically as a subconjuctival hemorrhage, is a usually a relatively common and harmless occurrence. Several problems can cause it to happen, such as trauma and severe strain, including sneezing. Pressure changes, along with certain infections and illnesses, can also cause this.

When a blood vessel in the eye breaks, or the walls of the vessel rupture, it usually occurs in the conjunctiva, the clear membrane surrounding the eye. When a capillary or blood vessel bursts in this area, the blood usually becomes trapped between the clear surface of the eye and the white part of the eye, known as the sclera. A red spot, which can be either small or large, is often the result.

Eye trauma is one of the most common causes of a popped blood vessel in the eye. This can happen when something gently bumps or pokes the eye. It can also occur when something gets in the eye, such as a grain of sand, and the act of rubbing the eye too hard when this happens can also cause popped veins.

Another very common cause is straining. Simply sneezing or coughing too hard can cause a capillary of blood vessel to burst. This can also happen when a person vomits violently or lifts something that is too heavy.

Both a mother and an infant can end up with a popped blood vessel in the eye during childbirth. In the mother, this is usually caused by the strain of the delivery. A broken eye vessel in a newborn, on the other hand, is thought to be caused by pressure changes that occur as the infant is pushed from the womb.

Many eye disorders may also cause a blood vessel in the eye to burst. Conjunctivitis and allergies are two common examples of this. These conditions can cause the walls of the blood vessels and capillaries to weaken, leading to a subconjuctival hemorrhage.

Chronic illnesses may be to blame as well. For instance, this condition is often associated with hypertension, or high blood pressure. Some medications used to treat hypertension, especially blood thinners, may also put a person at risk of developing a burst blood vessels in the eye.

Diabetes is another chronic illness that can cause broken blood vessels in the eyes. Patients with diabetes are typically more prone to developing certain eye disorders. If this disease is not managed correctly, it can cause blood vessels in the eyes to become thin and fragile. This can lead to burst blood vessels and, possibly, a condition known as diabetic eye disease.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By Lostnfound — On Aug 29, 2014

A co-worker gets these when she gets a migraine. Her migraines tend to make her very nauseated and the force of the vomiting causes the blood vessels in her eyes to pop. The capillaries underneath her eyes -- on her cheekbone will also pop, giving her skin a mottled or bruised look.

That happened to me the last time I had a stomach virus. I was so sick that the vomiting made capillaries in my face rupture, too. I did my best with concealer when I went back to work, but I still looked like a zombie. The concealer helped, but not that much.

By Grivusangel — On Aug 28, 2014

I had this happen when I had bronchitis the first time. I coughed all the time -- hard. It was bad. I had coughed through most of the night, and when I got up the next morning, my left eye had about three popped blood vessels! It looked terrible, like I'd been in a fight or something.

I went to the doctor and he said the vessels popped from the force of my coughing, and they would heal in a couple of days. I didn't think it was permanent, but it still made me feel better to hear it from the doctor. I have to take children's cough syrup because whatever they put in the adult varieties knocks me out and makes me jittery at the same time.

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