A scleral hemorrhage occurs when tiny blood vessels in the eye burst, leaving bright red spots of blood in the white of the eye. The blood is trapped by the outermost layer of the eyeball, called the conjunctiva. Eventually, the blood will be absorbed by the eyeball and the red spot will fade. It is also known as a subconjunctival hemorrhage.
Although a scleral hemorrhage may be only a small spot of red, it could also be a series of scattered red areas or even cause the entire white of the eye to turn red. Larger areas will take longer to heal, normally a period of two to four weeks after the discoloration is first noticed. The condition is usually painless, but some people notice pressure in the eyeball or an itching sensation on the surface of the conjunctiva.
Once the discoloration from the blood under the conjunctiva fades, there are not usually any lasting effects from the condition. If the bleeding persists, a healthcare professional should be consulted to rule out blood pressure disorders that could cause the red spots in the eye. Some blood clotting disorders may be indicated by persistent broken blood vessels in the eyes.
The causes of this type of hemorrhage are varied. Straining to pass a bowel movement can cause the pinprick rupture of the capillaries within the eyeball. Similarly, the pushing involved in childbirth can cause pressure to form in the eyeballs, which may result in a the red spots. There have been reports of coughing and sneezing causing the blood vessels in the eye to burst. Choking is another pressure-related cause, and vomiting may also cause enough pressure to burst blood vessels.
Other causes of a scleral hemorrhage may be an injury to the head or thoracic cage, and a direct blow to the eyes may cause bleeding under the conjunctiva. Deep-sea divers have been known to experience burst blood vessels after a dive from the pressure of the dive mask. Some people may exhibit symptoms as a result of too much stress for an extended period of time.
Treatment is limited to relieving the uncomfortable feeling that usually accompanies the condition. The daily application of moisturizing eye drops may relieve the itchy and dry feeling of the eyeball. A medical professional should be consulted if the hemorrhage occurs in both eyes at the same time, or if it continues to happen repeatedly.