How a Black Eye Is Treated

A black eye is a common injury to the face or the head that usually isn't cause for concern. Simple home remedies may be the best treatment to ease pain and reduce inflammation. But to get rid of a "shiner" fast, or in cases where it's a sign of a serious injury, you'll need to see a healthcare provider.

Thankfully, most black eyes are relatively minor bruises that heal on their own in about three to five days. Some may last for up to two weeks.

This article details how to tell if your black eye is an emergency. It also covers first aid and home remedies, over-the-counter treatments, and a medical procedure that can help relieve symptoms while you wait for your black eye to heal.

First Aid

Black eyes can be caused by a punch or other injuries to the head and face. The injury breaks small blood vessels, and blood then pools up around the eye. That's what causes the typical black-and-blue bruise.

The first priority with a black eye is determining whether it's a medical emergency. While rare, a black eye is sometimes a warning sign of a serious head or eye injury.

If you or someone near you takes a blow to the face or head, or if you see discoloration start around an eye, you should:

  1. Stop all activity.
  2. Get to a calm, safe spot if possible.
  3. Determine if you're dealing with an emergency.

Identifying an Emergency

Call 911 or get emergency medical help for:

  • Two black eyes after a blow to the head (may indicate a severe head injury such as a skull fracture)
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Confusion or odd behavior
  • Signs of a concussion (impaired memory, inability to focus, nausea and vomiting, headache, dizziness)
  • Injury caused by an object in the eye
  • Blood pooling in the eye itself (rather than around it)
  • Cuts in or near the eye
  • Deformity in the face or eye socket
  • Fluid draining from the eye, ears, nose, or mouth
  • Broken or missing teeth
  • Severe pain

Don't ignore these warning signs or wait to see if they clear up. Get help.

Not an Emergency? Self-Treat

If you've determined a black eye isn't an emergency, you can begin self-treatment.

  • Ice the area around the eye using ice wrapped in a thin cloth, a cold compress, or a bag of frozen vegetables. Don't use gel ice packs. They may leak dangerous chemicals into your eye.
  • Avoid putting direct pressure on the eyeball.

You can help reduce the pain and speed up healing by following first aid up with simple home remedies.

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

Home Remedies

 Verywell / Lara Antal

As the bruise heals, the swelling will go down. The skin may go from black and blue to green and yellow.

Some things can help relieve the pain and swelling as your black eye heals:

  • For the first 24 hours, continue to ice the area for 15 minutes out of every hour you're awake.
  • Use an extra pillow to elevate your head when you sleep. Keeping your head above your heart helps keep blood from pooling around your eye, reducing bruising and swelling.
  • Get plenty of rest and don't overexert yourself.

Once the swelling goes down, usually in about 48 hours, you're ready to move on to treatments that increase blood flow and promote healing:

  • Use a warm compress for 20 minutes at a time, several times a day.
  • Gently massage the area, but stop if it hurts.

Finally, allow the eye to heal before you go back to sports or other potentially dangerous activities.

Recap

After an injury that could cause a black eye, call 911 for emergency symptoms. If there's no emergency, rest and ice are the first treatments to try. Once swelling subsides, switch to heat and massage.

Over-the-Counter Therapies

You can take over-the-counter (OTC) pain medication to help reduce swelling and pain. Options include:

Stay away from aspirin because it can increase bleeding.

Does Raw Steak Help a Black Eye?

It's long been said that putting a raw steak on a black eye helps it heal. This is a bad idea. Putting raw meat on any contusion or open wound is a good way to wind up with an infection.

Specialist-Driven Therapies

If you need the black eye to clear up right away for some reason—maybe you're in a wedding party or have a job interview—you may want to ask a dermatologist (skin specialist) about laser treatment.

Providers can perform this procedure in their office. It may keep a bruise from spreading and help it heal faster. Speed is important, though. Those who perform this procedure say results are best when it's done soon after the injury.

However, laser treatments often cause bruises. Research is mixed on whether laser treatments improve or worsen bruising.

Cost can be a big drawback, too. This use is considered cosmetic, so insurance won't cover it.

Recap

OTC pain relievers can help with the pain and inflammation of a black eye. If you need it gone fast, see a dermatologist for laser treatments.

Complementary and Alternative Medicine (CAM)

A few CAM treatments may be beneficial for a black eye. These generally aren't as well researched as medications, so use them with caution and watch for any unwanted side effects.

Always check with a healthcare provider before using CAM treatments and let them know about any other drugs or supplements you are taking.

Arnica

Arnica is an herb in the same family as the sunflower (Asteraceae).

Arnica contains an ingredient called helenalin that's known to have anti-inflammatory properties. It's also used in dermatology to prevent or alleviate bruising after surgery.

These properties may help your black eye heal faster. However, research on arnica is still in its early stages and results so far haven't been consistent. It's too early to say for sure whether arnica works for black eyes or any other medicinal use.

If you want to try it, you can take it orally (by mouth) or use it topically (on the skin). Be sure to use highly diluted forms of arnica sold for homeopathic use. In larger quantities, the herb is toxic.

Available forms of arnica include:

  • Extracts
  • Tinctures
  • Supplements
  • Powders
  • Aromatherapy oil
  • Dried herb

Topical arnica may cause irritation or swelling.

You may be allergic to arnica if you're allergic to other plants in the Asteraceae family. These include:

  • Ragweed
  • Marigolds
  • Chrysanthemums
  • Daisies

Other CAM Treatments

CAM treatments with less evidence backing their use for bruising and inflammation include:

  • Comfrey (Symphytum officinale): Some early research suggests using this herb topically may help reduce bruising.
  • Vitamin C: Oral or topical vitamin C may prevent blood clotting, which can reduce bruising and speed bruise healing.
  • Vitamin K: Vitamin K is important for blood clotting. As with vitamin C, that property can help with bruise prevention and healing.

More research needs to be done to prove the safety and effectiveness of these treatments.

Recap

Herbs and supplements that may help with inflammation and bruising are arnica, comfrey, vitamin C, and vitamin K. Evidence is preliminary but promising.

When to Get Medical Help

In addition to the emergency symptoms listed above, you should watch for a few signs of a serious injury that may take a few days to identify. These include:

  • Vision changes or vision loss that doesn't clear up quickly
  • Severe or persistent pain
  • Swelling that lasts more than 48 hours

Be sure to get medical attention for these symptoms or any emergency symptoms that may crop up in the days after the injury that caused a black eye.

Summary

Black eyes are a common result of a face or head injury. Small blood vessels break and produce the characteristic bruising around the eye.

Most black eyes heal on their own. You can attempt to speed up healing with treatments like ice, anti-inflammatory medications, and some herbs and nutritional supplements. If you need it gone right away, you can see a dermatologist for laser therapy.

In rare cases, a black eye may be a sign that you have a more serious injury. Watch for concerning or worsening symptoms and get medical care when needed.

A Word From Verywell

While a black eye isn't usually serious, it's better to prevent one than to treat one. If you have a job or hobby that puts you at risk for face, head, or eye injuries, wearing proper protective eyewear is always a good idea.

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10 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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