Hyphema: Definition & Treatment

Instructor: Danielle Haak

Danielle has a PhD in Natural Resource Sciences and a MSc in Biological Sciences

Hyphema is a condition where blood collects in the front of the eye, sometimes completely blocking vision. Read this lesson to learn more about hyphema, how it develops, and how to treat it!

What is Hyphema?

Hyphema is a curious condition where blood pools in the front part of the eye, between the cornea and the iris, in the region known as the anterior chamber. If that description makes you think, whoa, you're definitely not alone. Hyphema not only sounds like a condition out of a horror movie, but if it becomes extreme enough, it can completely block vision in the affected eye. Though the symptoms of hyphema are similar to those of a subconjunctival hemorrhage, it is a far more serious condition and should be treated right away.

Symptoms of Hyphema

Hyphema causes blood to pool in the front portion of the eye - the anterior chamber - and can be extremely painful. If not treated, permanent vision damage may occur. It can cause sensitivity to light and blurred vision as well.

Here, you can see the blood pooled against the lower half of the eye.

Causes of Hyphema

Hyphema is typically caused by some form of trauma to the eye, especially sports-related injuries. However, there are other possible causes, including forms of eye cancer, complications of lens implants, blood clotting issues, severe diabetes, inflammation of the iris, and abnormal blood vessels on parts of the eye. Wearing eye protection during sporting events can help prevent hyphemas from developing.

Treatment Options

A pool of blood in the front of your eye that can potentially block your vision doesn't sound like much of a picnic. So if it happens, how would you treat it? To deal with the pain, an over-the-counter pain medication may be used, at least in mild cases. This medication should not include aspirin, because aspirin thins the blood and can make the bleeding worse.

Non-surgical remedies may include sleeping propped up to allow the area to drain, limiting physical activity until the hyphema goes away on its own, wearing a protective barrier over the eye to protect it from further injury, and frequent check-ups by a qualified eye doctor. Minor cases usually resolve themselves within a week.

If bleeding starts again, the symptoms and prognosis are likely to be worse during these repeat events. If you are at risk for long-term damage or if the bleeding doesn't stop on its own, surgery may be necessary to physically drain the blood from the eye.

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