One of the most common types of birth injuries is a subconjunctival hemorrhage. This involves ruptured blood vessels under the eye. Blood released by the rupture collects under the bulbar conjunctiva. This is the clear membrane covering the white part of the eye, which is known as the sclera. A subconjunctival hemorrhage is clearly visible as a red spot on the eye.
A subconjunctival hemorrhage is rarely serious and usually resolves on its own without pain or vision problems.
Children usually develop subconjunctival hemorrhages during childbirth when they experience pressure on the head. Changes in pressure may lead to ruptured blood vessels. Sometimes prolonged labor or fetal macrosomia may increase the risk of subconjunctival hemorrhage. This is because the infant moves through the birth canal with difficulty and suffers pressure from contractions. In other cases, a doctor who uses too much pressure during childbirth may cause this condition. They may use forceps or vacuum extractors improperly, for example, or they may put too much pressure on the head while guiding the shoulders around an obstruction. Infections or high blood pressure also may lead to subconjunctival hemorrhages.
Diagnosing and Treating Subconjunctival Hemorrhages
The main sign of this condition is a red spot in the affected eye soon after the pressure occurs. A severe case of subconjunctival hemorrhage may cover the entire sclera. Parents sometimes are alarmed to see the red spot expand, but this is not uncommon during the first 24 hours of the condition. It should gradually ease afterward, and the condition should resolve entirely within weeks. While the eye heals, it may turn yellow as the blood is reabsorbed.
Subconjunctival hemorrhage tends to be simple to diagnose. A visual exam will reveal the problem without sophisticated testing. Sometimes a doctor will want to monitor the blood pressure of the child, though. They may suggest the use of artificial tears to alleviate any discomfort caused by the condition, but a subconjunctival hemorrhage should not need any specific treatment to heal.
Parents and doctors should be alert to symptoms of a more serious problem, such as fever, swelling, pus, or other indications of an infection. These may require closer attention and more specific treatment.
Legal Claims Based on Subconjunctival Hemorrhages
Most children will recover seamlessly from this condition, but permanent eye damage may result from subconjunctival hemorrhage in very unusual cases. Even if subconjunctival hemorrhage does not cause lasting harm to a child, it often suggests that they have suffered from birth trauma. Thus, parents should see this condition as a red flag that may indicate a risk of more serious conditions on the horizon. A baby might develop Bell’s palsy or other problems with their nerves or brain for the same reasons that caused a subconjunctival hemorrhage.
If a more serious condition develops from the same cause as a subconjunctival hemorrhage, parents may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim against a doctor who used excessive force during labor and delivery, or who used assistive devices improperly. This can allow a family to recover compensation for medical costs and the pain and suffering of the child. While damages resulting directly from a subconjunctival hemorrhage generally will be modest, substantial costs can arise from other birth injuries affecting the head. To preserve their right to compensation, a family must bring their claim within the statute of limitations. This rule restricts the time for bringing a certain type of lawsuit. By promptly consulting an attorney, parents can avoid problems involving the statute of limitations and other procedural hurdles.