A bruised and swollen shiner is certainly a scary sight. And the experience of getting a black eye is probably just as frightening. Yet, before you panic about your black eye (or your child’s), know that the vast majority clear up nicely on their own within a couple days to weeks. Although much less common, a minority of black eyes can sometimes point to more serious eye damage – and it’s worthwhile to know how to spot the signs of a more severe problem.
Your local eye doctor discusses all you need to understand about a black eye – what it is, how to care for it, and when to seek urgent eye care.
Why did my eye turn black?
Your eye did not actually turn black, just the area around it became discolored. The medical name for a black eye is a “periorbital hematoma,” explained as an “accumulation of blood in the tissues around the eye.” When blunt force impacts your eye area, many thin blood vessels are broken. The skin around your eye is loose and relatively thin, which allows blood and other fluids to collect and be seen easily. After an injury, this area becomes swollen and discoloration appears very rapidly.
Sometimes, the sclera of your eye (white part) will appear bright red as a result of bleeding under the membrane that coats your ocular surface. While a red eye looks terrible and causes many people to squirm, it is typically not serious and returns to normal without any medical intervention.
Can you get a black eye without having an eye injury?
The most usual cause of a black eye is a forceful hit to your face. However, there are some other possible causes, such as nasal surgery and cosmetic eye surgery. Swollen eyes and eyelids can also result from a severe tooth infection, sinus infection, and some types of dental work.
Serious medical issues that can lead to a black eye include:
- Cellulitis (infection) in the tissues around the eyes
- Hyphema: bleeding between the iris and the back of the cornea; this is an emergency condition that can lead to vision loss
- Skull fracture
How can I identify when a black eye requires emergency care?
A classic shiner exhibits different symptoms from a black eye that results from a more serious problem. Familiarize yourself with the following characteristics:
Regular black eye symptoms-
- Inflammation around the eye; this may start out mild and then worsen, possibly making it difficult to open the eye
- Bruising, discoloration, and soreness around the eye; generally, the skin first appears red and then changes to dark purple, yellow, green or black
- Blurry vision
Signs of a black eye associated with a serious head injury-
If you notice any of these symptoms, your optometrist will advise that you seek urgent eye care treatment.
- Blood on the surface of the eyeball
- Inability to move the eye
- Vision Loss
- Double vision
- Blood or fluid coming out from your nose or ears
- Severe or constant headache
How do you treat a black eye?
A regular black eye (not the kind with more serious symptoms!) can be self-treated at home, according to the following instructions:
Day One and Two: On the first day after your injury, reduce pain and inflammation with the gentle application of an ice pack to your ocular area for about 15-20 minutes, once an hour. No ice pack in the freezer? A bag of frozen veggies or ice cubes wrapped in a cloth (placing them directly on your face can freeze your skin) will also do the trick. All that matters is that the item is very cold, as coldness limits the swelling by constricting the blood vessels.
Also, a mild pain-reliever, such as Tylenol, may help. Warning: Do not take aspirin; it is a blood thinner and can therefore worsen the appearance of your black eye.
Despite Hollywood’s portrayal of prize-fighters spreading a slab of raw meat over their black eye, this is actually a dangerous, unhealthy treatment. Raw meat is the perfect breeding ground for many bacteria, all of which cause infection when held against a wound.
Day Three: Time to switch from cold to warm compresses; warmth enhances blood flow to the eye area, which facilitates healing.
Is there any way to speed healing of a black eye?
Research studies suggest that taking vitamin C supplements can strengthen blood vessels and eating pineapple can reduce inflammation. Another nutrition-based treatment is to eat bilberry extract, since it is full of powerful antioxidants that may lower bruising in the body.
Eye doctors stress that staying away from any further eye injury is an effective way to help your eye heal faster. It is a smart idea to avoid any activities or sports that involve whizzing balls or crashing into other team players. If you do engage in physical action, equip yourself with protective eyewear or safety glasses.
The good news is that even without additional attention, the swelling and pain of your black eye should subside within a few days. And most of the time a black eye will look significantly better in a week, before going away entirely within a few weeks. During the natural healing process, the color of your skin will change hues a few times before returning to normal.
If your black eye does not improve, or if you detect any other vision problems, contact our family eye care office to schedule an emergency eye exam.