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What Is a Black Eye?

Black Eye Treatment

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Updated April 04, 2014

black eye

black eye

Photo (c) A.D.A.M.

What Causes a Black Eye?

A black eye is not uncommon after an injury to the face or the head. Even a minor impact to the face can result in a large, angry-looking "shiner." The swelling and trademark black-and-blue color occurs when small blood vessels in the face and head break, and blood and other fluids collect in the space around the eye.

The majority of black eyes are relatively minor bruises that heal on their own in a about three to five days. As the bruise heals, the swelling around the eye decreases, and the skin color often goes from black and blue to green and yellow.

Sometimes, a black eye is a warning sign of a more serious head, face or eye injury. Two black eyes after an impact to the head shouldn't be taken lightly; it may indicate a severe head injury such as a skull fracture. While rare, a black eye may also indicate damage to the eyeball itself.

Black Eye Signs and Symptoms

  • Pain and swelling around the eyelid and eye socket.
    In some cases the eye may actually swell shut.
  • Discoloration around the eyelid and eye socket.
    This may begin as simple redness and progress to black and blue bruising.
  • Blurring of the vision may also occur for a short time.
  • Mild headaches or neck pain may also occur after a blow to the head.

When to Seek Medical Treatment for a Blck Eye

If you have any of the following conditions along with a black eye, you should get medical attention to rule out a serious eye or head injury.
  • Changes or loss of vision that don't clear up quickly
  • Severe or persistent pain
  • Swelling that continues beyond 48 hours
  • Any injury caused by an object in the eye
  • Blood pooling in the eye
  • Cuts or lacerations in or near the eye
  • Any deformity in the eye socket, face, or jaw that may indicate a fracture
  • Broken or missing teeth
  • Behavior changes or confusion
  • Fluid draining from the nose, mouth, ears or eye
  • Signs of concussion or other serious head injuries that may have occurred from head trauma.

Home Treatment For a Black Eye

Most black eyes will heal on their own within a few days, but you can help speed healing and reduce pain by taking the following actions:
  • Stop any activity and apply ice wrapped in a thin cloth (or a cold compress or a bag of frozen vegetables) to the area around the eye.
  • Avoid putting direct pressure on the eyeball itself.
  • Keep the ice on the area for 15 minutes at a time every waking hour for the first 24 hours.
  • Keep your head elevated while sleeping. Using two pillows may help reduce swelling throughout the night.
  • Pain medications may help reduce swelling and inflammation and decrease pain, but stay away from aspirin which may increase bleeding.
  • Continue to apply ice several times a day until the swelling subsides.
  • Continue to check for any any warning signs of a serious head injury for up to 48 hours.
  • Allow the eye to heal before returning to sports

Should I Put Raw Steak on My Black Eye?

You've seen it in the movies, but there is no evidence that putting raw steak on a black eye helps it heal any faster. In fact, putting raw meat on any contusion or open wound is a good way to wind up with any infection. Stick with ice.

Source

Black Eye, Health A-to-Z, Harvard Health Decision Guides, Harvard Health Publications, 2007.

When An Eye Injury Occurs, The American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2007

Black Eye Treatment, eMedicineHealth, 2007

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