What is hyphema and is it an eye care emergency?

There are many different issues that can affect the health of your eyes and vision, some of which are more serious than others. Some are even serious enough to be considered eye care emergencies. One eye care issue that isn’t well known but that can have serious consequences for your eyes and eyesight is called hyphema.

What is hyphema?

A hyphema occurs when blood collects inside the front part of the eye, specifically in the space between the cornea and the iris. The cornea is the transparent, domed-shaped section covering the front part of the eye, and the iris is the colored part of your eye. The blood that collects here can cover part or all of the iris, as well as the pupil. This can partially or totally block your vision.

hyphema diagram

What causes a hyphema?

In the vast majority of cases, a hyphema occurs as a result of injury to the eye. This is normally a blunt force trauma to the face/eye, such as being hit in the face with a ball or fist. This means that they are more likely to affect people who play sports, particularly ball or contact sports.

Nevertheless, there are also a number of other reasons why a hyphema may occur. These include the following:

  • Eye infections caused by the herpes virus
  • Issues with blood clotting
  • Abnormal blood vessels on the surface of the iris
  • Problems with artificial lenses (intraocular lenses or IOLs) that are placed into the eyes after cataract surgery
  • Cancers of the eye (very rare)

Symptoms of a hyphema

Unlike many other eye conditions, a hyphema can cause some discomfort. Other symptoms include:

  • Visible bleeding in the front part of the eye
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Vision that is blurry, clouded or blocked by a dark ‘curtain’

If you notice any of these symptoms, speak to your eye doctor right away.

Diagnosing and treating hyphema

A hyphema is considered to be an eye care emergency and must be treated as quickly as possible. If our usual eye doctor isn’t available, you should head straight to your emergency room.

Diagnosing hyphema is usually fairly straightforward and requires a simple examination of your eye and vision, using standard ophthalmology equipment. It may also be necessary to check the amount of pressure inside your eyes. This is because if blood accumulates in the anterior chamber, it can push the pressure up inside the eye, causing damage to the optic nerve.

There are a number of possible treatments for hyphema and your eye doctor may recommend you try several different options to see which best helps improve your condition. Some suggested treatments for hyphema include

  • Bed rest to keep your blood pressure low
  • Propping yourself up in bed to help your eye drain
  • Eye drops to reduce the swelling inside your eye
  • Wearing a shield over the eye to protect it
  • Surgery to remove the excess blood

Protecting yourself from hyphema

If you regularly participate in activities where there is a risk of traumatic injury to your eyes, our eye doctor will strongly recommend that you invest in some protective eyewear, which will help to minimize the risk of hyphema and a range of other eye problems that can be caused by eye injuries, such as cataracts, glaucoma, and retinal detachment.

There are many different styles and types of protective eyewear, and our eye care center can help you determine which is best for you, based on your activities.

For more information about hyphema, or to schedule an appointment, please contact our Sunnyside, NY eye care experts today at 718-565-2020.