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Can Lifting Weights Cause Eye Damage?

The Scary, Unexpected Thing That Happened to Me After a Grueling Workout

I recently tried my first CrossFit-like class at a weightlifting studio and woke up the next morning with more than just sore muscles. I wound up with a subconjunctival hemorrhage. That's the proper term my eye doctor used for a broken blood vessel in the eye that can occur due to sneezing, rubbing your eyes too roughly, or, in this case, heavy lifting. I'll spare you a photo and even dissuade you from doing a Google search, as it looks terrifying. The good news is, a subconjunctival hemorrhage is relatively harmless, doesn't hurt (or prevent you from wearing contacts), and heals on its own in two weeks. The bad? For those two weeks, it looks like someone stabbed you in the eye.

Here's what happens: A blood vessel breaks just below the surface of the eye, but because the eye can't absorb blood very quickly, the blood is trapped, turning the white of the eye red. Over the first few days, it spreads and looks worse before slowly getting better. Our POPSUGAR Fitness director asked me, "What exercise were you doing?" TBH, it could have been the 100 bench presses. Or the five reps of American kettlebell swings. Or the sledgehammer/tractor tire exercise. I don't really know.

The class itself felt like a challenge and outside of my comfort zone. I did grunt my way through the workout, but I wasn't pushing myself to the point of breathlessness or nausea. That's why I didn't feel the burst when it happened. Though the eye hemorrhage didn't stop me from exercising over the next few weeks, it did cause me to be more aware of my limits and to not push myself needlessly, as in complete an absurd amount of reps.


Though I'm committed to shedding the weight I put on during the holidays, and while I did enjoy the class, I'm feeling like part of my 2017 wellness plan is to slow it down and gradually build up my strength rather than strain myself out of the game. So for now, I'll simmer down the high-intensity workouts and stick to lifting my five-pound weights at my own pace.

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