It can be alarming to look in the mirror and see a red spot on the white of your eye. It doesn’t hurt or itch, and your vision seems fine: Should you be concerned?
Those marks are called subconjunctival hemorrhages, and unlike bloodshot eyes, they only affect a small section, leaving the rest of the eyeball white. Most of the time they aren’t anything to worry about, but there’s a reason you might want to play it safe and get it checked out. If your whole eye has gone red, learn about the causes of bloodshot eyes and how to fix them.
Weirdly enough, a red spot on eye might have a cause totally unrelated to your eyes: sneezing or coughing. “The blood pressure in the head rises drastically but very temporarily,” says Samuel D. Pierce, OD, president of the American Optometric Association. During that spike in blood pressure, the tiny blood vessels in your eye can get bigger and let a little blood leak out. The result? A little pool of blood in your eye. It’s basically the same thing as a bruise, but it doesn’t have skin covering it to give it a purplish tint.
In other cases of subconjunctival hemorrhage, the red spot on eye might appear because of trauma to the eye itself, like if you’ve rubbed your eye too hard. “Oftentimes the word we use is idiopathic, which means we can’t figure out why it happened,” says Dr. Pierce. “It could be trauma, but you rubbed your eye in your sleep, so you don’t have a recollection.” Watch out—these are other things that could happen if you keep rubbing your eyes.
Allergies can be a double whammy in leading to subconjunctival hemorrhages because you’re both sneezing and rubbing your eyes a lot. If you have poor circulation—if you have diabetics or high blood pressure, for example—you may be more likely to develop a red spot on the eye.
In the vast majority of cases, a red spot on your eye is nothing to worry about, but it’s still worth getting it checked out—especially if they pop up frequently. The spots could be a signal of a serious problem like high blood pressure, a bleeding disorder, or plasma cell cancer, says Dr. Pierce.
There’s nothing you can do to make the red spot disappear any faster, but over-the-counter vasoconstrictor eye drops can keep the spot from growing any bigger, says Dr. Pierce. Beyond that, all you can do is wait. After about two weeks, the red spot on your eye should disappear. Learn more about weird changes in your body—read up on 42 strange symptoms that signal serious disease.