The Best Treatment Tips for a Black Eye

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A black eye is common 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.

Woman in martial arts gi holding ice pack up to her eye
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The majority of black eyes are relatively minor bruises that heal on their own in 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, though, a black eye is a warning sign of a more serious head, face, or eye injury.

Home Treatment For Black Eyes
 Verywell / Lara Antal

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 Symptoms

A simple black eye comes with relatively few symptoms, and other than the nasty-looking bruise, they're typically mild. Symptoms include:

  • Pain and swelling around the eyelid and eye socket which can be severe enough for the eye to swell shut
  • Discoloration around the eyelid and eye socket that may begin as simple redness and progress to black-and-blue bruising
  • Blurred vision for a short time
  • Mild headaches or neck pain may also occur after a blow to the head

When to See a Doctor/Go to the Hospital

An injury to the eye or head can sometimes cause a black eye along with more serious problems. If you have any of the following symptoms along with a black eye, you should get medical attention to rule out a serious injury:

  • Vision changes or loss 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
  • Two black eyes, which can be a sign of a skull fracture
  • 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

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.
  • 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, such as with an extra pillow.
  • Take pain medications to help reduce swelling and inflammation and decrease pain; however, stay away from aspirin because it can increase bleeding.
  • Continue to apply ice several times a day until the swelling subsides.
  • Allow the eye to heal before returning to sports.

Continue to check for any warning signs of a serious head injury for up to 48 hours.

Should You Put Raw Steak on Your Black Eye?

You've seen it in the movies, but there's 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 an infection. Stick with ice.

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Article Sources
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  1. Porter D. Black Eye Symptoms. American Academy of Ophthalmology. Updated March 17, 2020.

  2. Porter D. American Academy of Ophthalmology. What Is a Black Eye? Updated March 17, 2020.

  3. Boyd K. American Academy of Ophthalmology. 5 Things to Know About a Black Eye. June 27, 2016.

  4. Murchison AP. Black Eye. Merck Manual. Updated August 2019.