An eye hemorrhage is a condition where blood vessels inside the eye rupture and bleed, leaving red splotches on the white of the eye, in the retina, or between the retina and the lens. Diabetes, high blood pressure, and eye strain are some factors that can cause eye hemorrhages. Bleeding in the eye is, however, often without an obvious cause and sometimes can occur from everyday incidents, such as sneezing, coughing, or eye-rubbing. Occasionally, a bleeding disorder or an infection can be responsible for an eye hemorrhage.
The most common hemorrhages occur in the sclera — the white portion of the eye under the clear membrane. Numerous tiny blood vessels beneath this membrane, called the conjunctiva, are so fragile they can break easily under slight pressure. An instance of bleeding in the sclera beneath the conjunctiva is called a subconjunctival eye hemorrhage. These hemorrhages are generally harmless and resolve themselves without treatment in a day or two.
Bleeding in the eye that occurs between the lens and retina takes place in the part of the eye known as the vitreous chamber. This type of eye hemorrhage happens when blood vessels near the retina tear and leak blood into the clear, gel-like atmosphere of the chamber. Vitreous hemorrhages are considered minor; however, some people seek medical help to excise the blood or blood clot from the vitreous chamber if it does not dissipate on its own. This type of eye hemorrhage, often related to diabetes, can temporarily obscure vision. In addition to diabetes, sickle cell anemia and macular degeneration can cause vitreous hemorrhages.
The third type of eye hemorrhage — abnormal bleeding of the retina — is the most serious. This hemorrhage is caused by more than the simple retina tears that might result in bleeding of the vitreous chamber. When the retina — a membrane at the back of the eye — fills with blood due to breaks in the retinal artery and the network of capillaries supplying nutrients to the rear eye area, the condition is usually caused by major eye trauma, such as a fall or heavy blow to the eyes. Some doctors use retinal hemorrhages to identify abuse or assault victims.
Retinal bleeding, however, can also be caused by disease. Extreme high blood pressure and unchecked diabetes are often implicated in retinal eye hemorrhages. Such bleeding can result in blisters behind the retina, which can reduce or end vision since the retina transmits nerve signals to the brain for sight. Laser surgery can remove retinal blood clots and blisters. It often can restore any lost sight, but not always.